What’s a Woman Worth? Putting a Dollar Value on Women’s Invisible & Unpaid Work

"What’s a Woman Worth? Putting a Dollar Value on Women’s Invisible

The woman’s role in the home has long been accepted as the status quo worldwide. From housework to childcare and cooking, Australian women account for almost three quarters of all unpaid work. But what is the monetary cost of this invisible work? In this article, Jacaranda Finance examines the true cost of women’s work in the home and presents an adapted calculator to put a dollar value to this unpaid domestic labour.

Invisible Labour Globally

Invisible labour manifests in a number of ways both inside and outside of working hours, although more often during the latter. Globally, women do 75% of the world’s unpaid care, leaving the workforce entirely to look after children or elderly, ill relatives. This exodus is to the detriment of women’s careers, typically placing women behind most men who go on to advance professionally.

What’s more, taking up the mantle of this work, which is sometimes not properly acknowledged as work at all, takes from the time that women could spend on paid work. So, even though the average woman spends more minutes per day working than a man, ultimately they will not get compensation for over half of it.

Valuing Women’s Work

In 2011, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee won the Nobel Peace Prize after ending her country’s civil war with a grassroots women’s movement that eventually led to the election of the African continents first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She also had a brilliant method for demonstrating the value of unpaid domestic work.

When Gbowee was working in a local community with a group of pastors, she asked one of them what it was his wife did during the day. He replied, “Nothing: sits home, eats my money, and gossips.” She then asked him to go to the blackboard in the room and write down his salary.

When he had, she asked, “What does your wife do first thing in the morning?”. He replied that she made hot water. So, Gbowee requested he write down how much it would cost him to pay someone to do that. Gradually, they made their way through all of the domestic chores the pastor’s wife completed in a day, estimating the monetary value for each task. According to Gbowee, “He calculated it and [multiplied] it by 30 or 31 days, and by the time he looked at the figure, the wife made more than him.”

For the pastor and all those in the room with him, it was a transformative process. Now they could see the true value of their wives work — a daily burden that, in Australia, equates to between twice to three times the amount of work for women compared to men. It’s a simple yet eye-opening concept and one that’s worthwhile trying out for anyone who would like to understand just how much invisible work women (and, sometimes, men) do.

Calculating the Dollar Value of Domestic Work

To put women’s invisible labour into perspective, in 2017 the annual value of unpaid childcare was estimated to be $409 billion, which is equivalent to 25% of Australia’s GDP. Meanwhile, the value of other domestic work such as cooking, tidying, and laundry was around $132 billion, which is roughly 8% of Australia’s GDP.

Curious to know how much this may equate to for you personally? The below calculator is programmed with hourly rates for typical household services, giving you an estimate for how much your invisible work may be worth per week.

How many hours per week do you spend on housework?

TaskHours per weekRate
Cleaning$28/hr
Laundry & ironing$26/hr
Buying Groceries$28/hr
Cooking$30/hr
Home Repairs$56/hr
Administration and Paperwork$32/hr
Childcare$17/hr
Homework Help$30/hr
$0.00

Please note, these figures are based off American statistics and are not adjusted for the Australian ($AUD) dollar.

An Issue of Ranking?

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Gender Gap Report, since 2006, Australian women have continued to rank first in the world for educational attainment out of 144 countries. How then, has the ranking of Australian women’s economic participation and opportunity slipped 34 places in that time, from 12th to 46th? Although women are increasingly more educated in Australia, gender equity stakes continue to move backwards. At this stage, it is unclear why but many believe it could be due to factors such as the new demands of motherhood, inadequate childcare, unconscious bias and economic disincentives.

So, How Can We Do Better?

Only when domestic labour is valued and shared more equally among men and women, will women have greater opportunity to participate in paid work. At its core, structural changes will need to be made regarding how this work is recognised, acknowledged, compensated and distributed. Yet, when children see their mothers and fathers sharing the load of domestic chores, social standards begin to change. That’s why, ultimately, it doesn’t just fall on women to try to change the world they live in – men need to pull their weight as well.

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