Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The value of motherhood

Flicking through my free Tesco magazine, I came across an article that calculated how much it would cost to pay professionals to do the work of a mother. They did this by using a survey of average time spent on various childcare tasks by mothers and then taking the average pay of a professional in that particular occupation and multiplying the two. Childcare tasks included driving children places, nursing, preparing food, cleaning (only for children not the household), cooking, helping with homework, laundry, counselling, PR, party planning and more. And, they calculated that to pay professionals to take on these roles would cost £1,425,105 per child.

This is fascinating for many reasons- first, because economists claim that it is impossible to make this calculation as it would be impossible to value such work in any meaningful way (but clearly what is difficult for economists is straightforward for journalists! ;) ). Second, it is valuing the work at quite a high rate, because if we divide this number by 18 years (and the survey took account of the fact that not all childcare tasks would be required throughout a child's life in its calculation) a mother's work is valued at almost £80,000 a year. If we were then to calculate the value of mother's work to the national economy, it would be a fairly significant chunk. Yet, we don't do this, because well it's only women's work...


cim said...

Interesting. There was a study a while back on the average value of uncompensated work (which, annoyingly, I now can't find) and I got the lower but still substantial value of £40,000/year/household from that (and a "shadow" GDP roughly equal to the official one)

Deciding exactly how to value the work - do you calculate transport at taxi rates or child ticket public transport rates or try to account for some of it in childcare rates, for instance? - is not straightforward, so there's going to be a fairly wide range of possible estimates.

Nevertheless, it's clearly substantially more than the median salary however you calculate it. Second, third, fourth and fifth shifts.

Feminist Avatar said...

I know- I think that is why I actually found it so interesting that Tesco magazine just sat down and calculated this. Because economists do find this such a nightmare due to the complexity of working out the value of tasks and that such attempts have provided such a variety of estimates.

Not to mention the fact that there is whole economic theory devoted to arguing that work in the household has no intrinsic economic value and so should not be added to the value of the economy.

Anonymous said...

As a feminist and an economist (though not a "feminist economist") I have to ask WHICH economists claim that it's impossible to do this calculation? We economists are all about calculating. There are things that are conceptually hard to calculate (externalities, e.g. of environmental damage) but we still try.

Feminist Avatar said...

I guess I am referring to comments by the govt for example whose excuse for not adding housework to GDP is that it can't be reliably calculated. I did have a link for the UK, but can't find it now. But, see this for the US's excuse- http://www.marketwatch.com/story/calculating-the-true-value-of-womans-work-2009-12-08

But, more broadly the problem is that it is still not agreed amongst economists whether housework *should be* calculated in financial terms (because for some work done for free shouldn't be counted as part of the economy), and amongst those who think it should be, there is no agreed method for calculating the value of it. As a result, while I admit that using the word 'impossible' is hyperbole, most economists do begin discussions of this sort of calculation with a lot of hawing and humming about the limits of what can be done (for example see the intro to this: http://www.roiw.org/1980/387.pdf)- which certainly wasn't shown by Tesco Magazine!

The interesting thing of course is that this is true of most economics- yet, it is only that which is applied to housework that is not taken seriously beyond feminist economists.

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