Women's Unpaid Work: Measurement and Distributional Issues

  • Erica Albarello
  • Graziella Fornengo


Many activities of every person’s daily life can be recorded under the category of “unpaid work”, meaning that they are performed without receiving a monetary reward. The present research deals with two of the most pervasive forms of unpaid work: housework and caregiving. In these last decades, the existence of such hidden side of the economy has been partially brought to light by time use questionnaires led by several first world countries, and by indexes on gender development and empowerment worked out by the United Nations. Such tools reveal that, both in developed and developing countries, the greatest amount of unpaid work is carried out by women who spend long hours in performing what can be defined as social reproduction. Moreover, it is striking to observe that, when such time is converted into money, by attributing a monetary value to the time spent in housework or to the activities which have been performed, the economic relevance of unpaid work emerges, proving to be equivalent to a considerable share of the official GDP.
Many different evaluation methods are presented, and the effort to apply them through the so-called Household Satellite Accounts, that some countries have been drafting, is remarked.
The point made by the present research is that despite the existing successful efforts to give an economic value to the work performed within the household – especially by women –, no actual concrete guidance is given by international organizations to governments in choosing an harmonized evaluation method. Moreover, the inclusion of unpaid work in the calculations of the GDP is discouraged, since it doesn’t seem to match with the current economic concepts.
We maintain that, considering the economic relevance of the work performed for no pay, it would be advisable to redefine what production means. Giving a monetary value to such activities, though not being a definitive solution, could be a good way in letting economists and policymakers realize the role of unpaid work, and of those who perform it, in the economic system and in society.

Keywords: women, unpaid work, housework, caregiving, evaluation