September 14, 2016    6 minute read

How Long Will Unpaid Care Be Ignored?

Missing Markets    September 14, 2016    6 minute read

How Long Will Unpaid Care Be Ignored?

Women take care of home and family. Probably from time immemorial. But why is it only women? Just because they have the reproductive capability, it becomes their natural responsibility to look after children and the home. Not only this, the women’s role in ‘care for the family’ goes largely unrecognised. It is not valued. It is not paid. It is taken as granted.

The Economics Of Unpaid Care

According to McKinsey Global Institute Report – The Power of Parity, September 2015, women are half the world’s working-age population but generate only 37% of GDP. The report further states that by using conservative assumptions, it is estimated that unpaid work by women today amounts to as much as $10 trillion of output per year, roughly equivalent to 13 percent of global GDP. Most of the countries face a problem of ageing populations, and this could bring down their GDP growth. It is felt that if more women were part of the labour force, the countries with an ageing population would not feel the pressure on their GDP growth. The McKinsey report recognises that “narrowing gender gaps in unpaid care work could have positive second-order effects beyond increasing GDP. For instance, women who reduce the time they spend on unpaid domestic work could have greater financial independence. This could be true both for highly skilled women who would then be free to pursue professional growth and for other women who could pursue wage-earning opportunities in the domestic work sector. Also, the rise in female labour-force participation associated with narrowing gaps in unpaid care work can also induce intergenerational benefits.”

Feminism Vs Traditionalism

This could be a feminist view calling for women’s emancipation, liberation or equality of rights. In the world of claims, counter claims and voices for revolt (should I say revolution?), emotions run high and a view is presented that demands like this destroy the long-standing cultural fabric of family and society.

Quite naturally, the views from the other school of thought are also very strong. You do not need to look far for the reasons; families have functioned in this manner for generations, and the family coparceners are not able to accept any contradictory view. For them, this is normal; business ‘as usual’. Men should be integral to making home a home. Shouldn’t men be a part of homemaking and a caretaker? The majority of men argue that they are bread earners and the money they earn brings comfort and prosperity to the family. They play their part and expect women to play their role in managing the home. Over the years, the roles of women and men have been typified. With changing times, women have ventured outside the zone by breaking ground rules. Society has accepted this as bringing home pay rises results in more economic and worldly comforts. The sad story of ‘role of homemaker’ for women continues. Now the women have to additionally shoulder onerous working responsibilities with ‘home care’. Their burden has swelled, and they juggle with this maze of increased responsibility. What do the studies say? Publication by OECD Development Centre on Unpaid Care Work authored by  Gaëlle Ferrante, Luca Maria Pando and Keiko Nowacka provides following key messages –

  • Around the world, women spend two to ten times more time on unpaid care work than men.

  • This unequal distribution of caring responsibilities is linked to discriminatory social institutions and stereotypes on gender roles.

  • Gender inequality in unpaid care work is the missing link in the analysis of gender gaps in labour outcomes, such as labour force participation, wages and job quality.

  • Tackling entrenched gender norms and stereotypes is a first step in redistributing responsibilities for care and housework between women and men.

The chart below demonstrates the time spent on unpaid care work varies by gender and region:   Chart

Note: This chart presents the average hours per day spent on unpaid care work by women and men by regions of the world: Middle East and North Africa (MENA), South Asia (SA), Eastern Europe and Central Asia (ECA), Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), East Asia and Pacific (EAP), Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and North America (NA). Source: OECD (2014), Gender, Institutions and Development Database.
North American and European men fare better than their counterparts in other regions but still fall short of unpaid care by women in terms of time spent.
Unpaid care is the notional value of services typically performed by women in a household.

Unpaid Care – A Gender-Neutral Concept

The highest claimants to the unpaid care are women though ‘home fathers’ (a rarity) are also entitled to it. Looking from this angle, unpaid care is a gender neutral concept. Till the time a point is reached where men and women share equal unpaid care, it needs to be valued and recognised. In a  Global Conversation on “Addressing unpaid care in the post-2015 agenda” organised by Wikigender, the following topics emerged as important issues surrounding the unpaid care work agenda (Source: Unpaid Care Work: The missing link in the analysis of gender gaps in labour outcomes  OECD 2014):
  •  Unpaid care is a universal issue: it affects women across the globe, regardless of their levels of education and income or the level of development of their countries. While some countries have made strides to recognise, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work, the largest share of the burden continues to fall on women.
  • Measuring unpaid care work: tools and research to measure unpaid care are critical to helping implement public policies that improve the lives of women. However, measurements should be context-specific to recognise the multiple circumstances behind women’s unpaid care work. Also, data comparability across countries is essential.
  • Recognising unpaid care work at the national policy level: States have a role in encouraging an equal distribution of unpaid care work at the family level. Flexible work schedules and shared parental leave are two possibilities for companies to encourage an equal distribution of unpaid care work at the family level and help women find a better work/life balance. Participants stressed the need to break established perceptions and initiative a shift in the organisational structure.
  • Strategies to address unpaid care work at the community level are needed to promote effective change in attitudes towards unpaid care work. Audiovisual strategies, the role of the media and programmes engaging men and boys, were all mentioned as possible ways leading to change.


Time has come to recognise and measure unpaid care.  The recognition and measurement of unpaid care work will be a positive step in changing the mindset towards the role of women in society. Advice to men all around the world – start sharing the load. Advice to the countries – reap the benefits – economically and socially.
Get articles like this straight to your inbox each morning with our Breakfast Briefing. Sign up by clicking here!

Log in with your details


Forgot your details?

Create Account

Send this to a friend