December 2000, No. 38 Deadline for contributions: 10 March 2001

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December 2000, No. 38
Deadline for contributions: 10 March 2001


Vienna NGO Committee on the Family

*Martinstrasse 92/3, A-1180 Vienna, Austria

(Phone/Fax: 43-1-405 89 01


For contributions to ‘Families International’:


From The Desk Of The Editors

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special feature

Making Domestic And Family Work Visible

By Elisabetta Pagnossin Aligisakis

Mrs. Pagnossin Aligisakis, mother of two girls, Ph.D. of Economic and Social Sciences, did much research at the Universities of Geneva, Bern and Brussels, for UNDP and the European Commission. She took part in a research on monetary valuing of domestic work financed by the Swiss National Fund for Scientific Research.

Introductory reflections

Domestic and family activities allow goods and services to be produced without price, meaning that there is no monetary, but only affective valuing. These goods and services are therefore ‘economically invisible’. They are produced by and for private households and dispossessed of the essential criterion for the marketplace: their price. This production is not subject to any monetary transaction, it is neither sold nor bought, but just offered or exchanged ‘for free’ within the household, or between members of different households. What's more, producing these goods and services took time and this time was also provided without any monetary compensation (salary). But why should, for instance, the ‘economic existence’ of meals be

ignored when provided at home yet taken into consideration when sold at the restaurant? Does this mean that society values only monetary exchange? To these reasons that sustain the invisibility of domestic and family work come methodological problems of measuring. As a consequence, this production is not registered in the economic statistics (national accounts and work statistics) thus ignoring a field of activities which are productive indeed.
An activity is recognised as productive when accomplished by some person other than the one benefiting by it: criterion of the 3rd person. Through this criterion it is relatively easy to make a difference between (economic) productive activities and personal ones. For example, someone may prepare my meal: according to the criterion of the 3rd person this is a productive activity. When the meal is prepared at the restaurant, it is the fruit of a market productive activity. When prepared at home it is a non-market productive activity. On the other side no one can eat my meal for me, because this is a personal activity, meaning: a non-economic, non-productive economy.

1 Quantifying domestic and family work

How can we make it visible? Its quantification already permits elements of knowing. The production can be measured in volumes, for example, by the number of persons or households that are accomplishing this activity or by the number of prepared meals, of kilos or pieces of washed and ironed laundry, number of children that are looked after, etc. In this view, the biggest inconvenience is made up by the diversity of units of measure (kilos, number, etc.) that do not allow comparison. The non-market production may also be measured in time: number of hours and minutes needed to accomplish the various activities during a day, a week, etc. This unit of measure is universally comparable since used world wide.
Measuring work time is much more advanced thanks to inquiries on time use. The collected data allow quantifying the whole of market and non-market activities of households and very often also to detail them. They also give the opportunity to make out the part of work that is essentially done by women. Further detailed insights may be gained by using socio-economic variables. Some examples: the comparative study I made together with Luisella Goldschmidt-Clermont for the United Nations Development Programme (Measures of Unrecorded Economic Activities in Fourteen Countries, Occasional Papers n. 20, New York, UNDP / HDRO, 1995) gives an idea of the time devoted to various kinds of activities by men and women in 14 industrialised countries: Germany, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, United States, Finland, France, Israel, Italy, Norway, Netherlands and the UK.
Time devoted to economic activities (market and non-market) takes less than one third of the day of the population from the analysed countries; this is about 6-7 hours a day. The remaining two thirds of the day are used for personal activities. In 6 countries - Germany, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Israel and the UK - men and women have an equal share of personal time. In the other 8 - Austria, Bulgaria, United States, Finland, France, Italy, Norway and the Netherlands - women spend more time on economic activities than men. If one analyses only the whole of economic activities, time taken by remunerated activities practically equals time spent on unremunerated activities in most countries. On the other side specificity of activities traditionally allocated to men and women is confirmed: women spend a major part of their economic time on domestic and family work (an average of 4 to 6 hours a day) whereas men do so with professional activities. According to the country, non-market activities take about 1 to 3 hours of men's average day.
The general conclusions on men's and women's contribution to the whole of economic activities of the 1995 World Report on Human Development of the United Nations Programme for Development show following numbers: In industrialised countries women do more than half (51%) of the total work load (remunerated and unremunerated). One third of the total workload of men and two thirds of women's are unremunerated economic activities. On the other hand in developing countries women support an average of 53% of the total workload (remunerated and unremunerated).
When analysing only domestic and family work, those involved in nourishing take a little less than one third of the whole time spent on unremunerated work. Then come, according to country, activities related to children, cleaning, or administration (including shopping). Traditional roles show up again in domestic and family activities: some are done mainly by women (cleaning, laundry, ironing), others mainly by men (odd jobs).
2 Sharing domestic and family tasks in time

Role models may still be observed, yet some minor changes took place in the course of time. In some countries - Canada, Great Britain, and Norway - comparative data are available for the past few decades. We see two tendencies: men spend a few minutes more time looking after children and shopping, whereas women tend to reduce the total non-market workload.

A combination of these two trends is accountable for decreasing differences in time spent on non-market activities by men and women during the last decades. In spite of this, the differences one notices in the distribution of market and non-market activities between men and women are on one hand general, on the other hand persistent. The following statement has to be made: taking on domestic and family activities was, is and probably will be for some time still a responsibility allotted to women by culture and society. The striking inequalities become especially visible when women have to conciliate professional and family life.
3 Monetary valuing of domestic and family work

If non-market production of households must be appreciated in personal and social terms, so should also its economic character be recognised. Consequently, proceeding to its monetary valuing bears a symbolic meaning. As a consequence monetary valuing has first of all a symbolic meaning. Until today this production went unrecognised or was little known since it was not monetised in a society where money (price or salary) makes up the value of goods and people. Transposing this production into monetary value is also a way of considering it as part and parcel of the economic field in the way of thinking of today's society. In order to do so, concepts such as work, production, leisure (e.g. odd jobs) ought to be redefined and some problems of methodology must be solved. For instance, the proposal (also adopted in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action) to introduce this production into national accounts by way of special (‘satellite’) accounts separate from the core as traditionally established should offer some flexibility. The opportunity to separate, to exclude, or to include this sector of activity, of production will offer more flexibility for economic analysis. It will also allow continuity of data in relation with those of past times without causing irreversible disruption.

One way of calculating the monetary value of domestic and family work is by giving the time needed to accomplish one or several non-market activities a value derived from an average salary. The average substitute may be that of a domestic help (‘polyvalent’ substitute) or remuneration of a ‘specialised’ substitute, allowing valuing of a specific activity such as average remuneration of a cook (food related), or teacher (child related). Needless to say that according to the salary used the valuing of non-market activities may offer significant differences.
A second way to monetary valuing is through market price of the various goods. Here the problem lies in relating the product/market and non-market service. The use of this method is rather recent. In some industrialised countries we analysed in our study the value of non-market production was assessed as being more than one third of GNP.

4 Heterogeneity of activities in the micro-cosmos of home

Domestic and family activities are a heterogeneous whole of goods and services that, in the market sector, are produced separately and are well differentiated. In consequence, domestic activities are done in a way that is either fragmented and repetitive (preparing meals twice a day), continuous (looking after children), often simultaneous (ironing and looking after children) or sometimes unforeseen (illness of a member of the household). Accomplishing these activities takes competence - increasing with time -, availability and responsibilities. Child related activities (physical and psychological care) are evident examples of this.
Keeping quiet about these characteristics of domestic and family work means ignoring some aspects of this mainly feminine contribution to a sector that is essential to the good working of the way today's society is organised in general, including the market sector. In the same time this allows the perpetuation of the vicious circle in which women are very often shut up and which is of great consequence in matters of rights, especially to women who devoted themselves for years to these activities only. In the long run they can be penalised socially and economically - e.g. unemployment and poverty.
On the other hand, judges and insurers may be confronted with the necessity of criteria or valuation scales of non-market activities and production in cases of divorce or indemnification after a woman's accident. These cases are just some illustrations amongst many others where monetary valuing of domestic and family work might be useful.


In conclusion, let it be remembered that all the available data, no matter in what way they were obtained, show the importance of non-market production by households. In all national money it is a multi-zero number. Furthermore it takes almost just as much time as market activities. Yet valuing domestic and family work should not be seen as an end in itself, but as a means. It is a, non-exclusive, way of re-assessing the economic input of women by using the current economic logic.
Once the domestic and family work done by women is ‘made visible economically’ national decision-makers will no longer be able to ignore it. Admitting that the traditional view on economy was partial because of the invisibility of the non-market productive sector is in itself a thorough change of thinking. At the same time valuing the non-remunerated work means recognising the feminine economic contribution not only in terms of money, but also in terms of humanity.

Geneva, June 2000

Measuring Women's And Men's Unpaid Domestic Or Household Work

By Winston Sims

(The following is drawn in part from by UNDP Focus on Women, DPI/1659/wom.)

The list of domestic or household activities, all of which have economic implications, is a long one and well known to all of us. It includes the production of goods and services involved in getting water, sewing to mend or make clothes, washing clothes, ironing, preparing the fields or gardens for planting, mending tools, ensuring facilities for harvesting and storage of the harvest, raising food, processing of food, preparation of food, cooking, washing dishes, caring for children, spouse or partner, parents or elderly, community activities, undertaking of any cottage industries, building, repairing and maintenance of the home and so forth. Most of the time these activities are domestic in nature; they do not enter the market and although essential to the vitality and survival of the family and society, they do not enter the national accounts. The work is, therefore, unvalued in terms of national policies. But these activities comprise an invaluable resource of enormous value. In the absence of such data, there can be little effective economic or social planning.
Of increasing importance to the well-being of our families and society is the fact that our identities, not to mention our status in society is so often measured by what we do, by our jobs, not by who we are. One result is that the most important aspects of our lives, our families and communities, carry little or no valuation, recognition, or prestige. They are vastly underestimated. And then when we devote our lives to other activities, better remunerated, we wonder why it is that our families and communities are under stress perhaps even dissolving before our very eyes. Most of this activity, but far from all, of course, is undertaken by women. Their contribution is clearly disproportionate to that of men. And so the activity of women, their work, their roles, even women themselves are depreciated and undervalued. They often see themselves and are seen by others as ‘only housewives’.
The first step in changing this is to undertake ‘time-use’ studies to identify the myriad ways in which women and men use their time within the household. Many of these were mentioned in the first paragraph. This produces, over a period of a year, since many of the activities are seasonal, a catalogue of activities which are basically domestic and do not enter the market and which carry no explicit economic value, yet which make a definite contribution to the economic and social survival and well-being of the family and the community.
The next step is to try to specify these activities in a way that they can be used as indicators that measure, quantify or otherwise reflect faithfully their economic value. This, of course, implies reaching an estimation of the market value of the inputs and outputs associated with these activities. These can then serve as indicators of productive domestic activities, not that all such indicators would be equally important or valuable.
Following the identification and establishment of indicators, using these indicators to gather data can yield the statistics that can bring us much closer to a clearer understanding of the real value of domestic or household production and other activities.
If we really believed that these activities had great intrinsic importance we would have developed indicators to describe them a long time ago. Perhaps we have so few indicators in these areas because so many of these activities are discharged by women. What is clear is that until we have the indicators that we need, we will not have the necessary statistics and our understanding of the real value of these activities will only continue to suffer, as will our efforts to design and implement more effective economic and social policies.

Contact: Winston Sims, Vienna NGO Committee on the Family, Martinstrasse 92/3, A-1180 Vienna, Austria, Phone/Fax: 43-1-405 89 01, Email:


Thirty-Ninth Session Of The Commission For Social Development

New York, USA, 13-23 February 2001

The provisional agenda of the 39th session will be:

  1. Election of officers

  2. Adoption of the agenda and other organisational matters

  3. Follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development:

  1. Themes:

  1. Priority theme: enhancing social protection and reducing vulnerability in a globalising world

  2. Sub-theme: the role of volunteerism in the promotion of social development

  1. Review of relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups

  1. Multi-year programme of work of the Commission for 2002-2006

Documentation on this agenda item will be:

  • Report of the Secretary-General on enhancing social protection and reducing vulnerability in a globalising world

  • Report of the Secretary-General on the role of volunteerism in the promotion of social development

  • Report of the Secretary-General on the follow-up to the International Year of Older Persons

  • Report of the Secretary-General on the follow-up to the International Year of the Family and the observance of its tenth anniversary in 2004

  1. Programme questions and other matters:

  1. Programme performance and implementation

  2. Proposed programme of work for the biennium 2002-2003

  3. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development

Documentation on this agenda item will be:

  • Note by the Secretary-General on the draft proposed programme budget for the biennium 2002-2003

  • Note by the Secretary-General transmitting the Report of the Board of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development

  • Note by the Secretary-General on the nomination of members of the Board of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development

  1. Provisional agenda for the fortieth session of the Commission

  2. Adoption of the report of the Commission on its thirty-ninth session

Further information: Web:

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