By Shreya Gandhi
Edited by Namitha Sadanand
Performing household work has often been considered a menial and certifiably simple job. Arguments in favor of this point of view centre around facts like it requires no degree and receives no monetary remuneration, and so the respect associated with being a ‘homemaker’ is almost close to nothing. Now, some would say that that’s a fairly logical argument considering that we live in a capitalist society, where your worth is valued by your pay; no pay automatically implies no worth. Women, being the main doers of this job, are then at the short end of the stick, especially in India where a large number of women are housewives.
But let’s take a moment and think about the life of a typical Indian housewife-you will find that it is more hectic than even that of a CEO of a company. Consider the different roles she plays – the caregiver to her children and her in-laws, the dutiful wife to her husband, the cook, the cleaner and the main manager of the logistics and daily finance of the household – all with no pay and a 24 hour work duty. Even with domestic help, managing a household is a full time job. A day sans the services of a housewife disrupts the functioning of the household completely; a man can be a breadwinner because he knows he has a tidy home to come to at the end of the day, his family is taken care of and his food awaits him. In essence, one can say that a housewife is the backbone of the household-her work is the most important for any kind of productivity to take place.
However, as important as it is, household production is not recognized while calculating the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the nation. The GDP is an aggregate measure of the value of the goods and services produced in an economy. So in essence, what’s being implied is that a housewife is actually doing no productive work. Now, the alternative to her doing this job is to outsource it and hire a maid, a nanny, a nurse, a cook and so on which will obviously require payments to be made for the work. The US child care industry is valued at close to 20 billion dollars today. So if the work in the market is considered a service, then the same work being done by a housewife is also technically the production of services, even if it is unpaid. Even though the GDP only considers paid work to constitute production of goods and services, many people are beginning to see sense in the inclusion of homemaking in calculating the same. A study by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis found that if household production was included in estimating GDP, it would have added $3.8 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2010, which is nearly 26% higher.
Proponents of including the services of housewives in the GDP argue that it will raise the respect given to homemakers and also provide a more accurate picture of GDP and growth. It also might lead to a different interpretation of public policies that affect the allocation of time between household work and market work. To empower women who are housewives, the Ministry of Women and Child Development in India is considering drafting a bill for the inclusion of household work in the GDP; doing this, however, is a daunting task. So how can the government go about this? Considering the opportunity cost of the housewife’s services is one way to calculate what she would earn if she sought employment in the market. Another way is to calculate the market value of the housework where one could value it in terms of what the prevailing market price is to purchase the services of a nanny or the wages paid to workers for cleaning, cooking and the like. However both the above stated measures are extremely problematic. This is because in the first method, a housewife’s alternative job could be anything (for instance a CEO and a receptionist have very different wages) whereas while using the latter, the market values of different services may be misleading for calculation.
Despite these complications, the importance of valuing a housewife’s work has come to the forefront with distinguished Nobel laureates such as Amartya Sen advocating it. International organizations and the government have also begun to deliberate on the inclusion of household production in the GDP of a country. However, there’s a long way to go before this idea can be put into action.
Shreya Gandhi is a second year student of Economics at the Lady Shri Ram College for Women. She is an advocate of gender equality and loves dogs. She is extremely interested in current events, especially in the political, economic and financial spheres and hopes to make a career in finance in the future.