The nature of household labour is such that it doesn’t directly come under contractual labour, which is influenced by monetary exchange. Yet household labour is essential for the survival of the economy. The contribution of this segment is rarely recognised in terms of GDP and its economic value is never truly credited.
The research on the economic input of value of unpaid housework is not new, yet it remains confined to the academic domain. According to different research papers, unpaid housework substantially adds to the GNP of a economy and its share ranges from 9% to 35%. But the question that lingers is that why is such an important contributor kept out of the purview of the national economy?
The first answer to this is linked to the gender-work gap. Traditionally, housework has been the socially acceptable work for women and the work ‘outside’ has been the domain of the man. Times have changed but the dominant discourse hasn’t. Additionally, women who juggle housework and office work tend to put in less of their labour in the latter and ultimately lag behind their male counterpart. An American NPO, National Bureau for Economic Research found that overtime hour rewards are often missed by women as they leave to take care of household tasks. Forbes has reported that such discrimination may look profitable in the short run as it does not entail providing remuneration for housework to women. But in the long term, it hurts the economy.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the chore gap between men and women is the largest in India. According to the data collected by the World Economic Forum Report in 2014, women spend about 351.1 minutes per day on household tasks and men spend about 51.8 minutes. The latest reports published in 2016 also show a disproportionate distribution of unpaid work.
To understand the dichotomy of the work hours and reimbursement, BE spoke to three women - one who is a full time homemaker, the second who is a part time worker with an insurance company and a third who is a professional with a regular job.
Speaking to BE, a full-time homemaker, who chose to withhold her name said that her day starts early at around 4am and concludes at around 10 pm. Between these hours, she is engaged for six to seven hours in activities that require her to be in a standing position and spends around three hours on activities that can be performed in sitting positions. J. Choudhury who works as a part time insurance agent and full time homemaker informed that she works about an hour or two per day professionally, depending on the need. On the other hand, she works around 14 hours per day for her family, 12 if the school of her child is not in session. Mita Mukherjee who is employed with a PSU works about seven hours each day, excluding holidays. In a normal working day, she contributes three hours to household work and on holidays she puts in about nine hours.
In spite of the extra hours, a recent report showed that women earn about 25% less in their daily salaries as compared to men. If wages for the formal sector is not gender equal, the chances of equality of wages in the informal sector remains fewer. Even if we take the labour put in by these women as unskilled, they are entitled to Rs.9000 per month. Not only this, household workers are doing so much more for the economy as they are raising future taxpayers, ensuring health and reducing state expenditure on healthcare, caring for the elderly and disadvantaged and so on. In 2012, the Ministry of Women and Child Development toyed with the idea of paying a part of the husband’s salary to the homemaker wife, but nothing came out of that policy. The need of the hour for the policy makers is to credit the housework done by women and giving a part of the spouse’s salary as a “reward” trivialises their contribution.