News release

Housework Vital to Societal Progress

Work performed in households is more essential to basic survival and quality of life than much of the work done in offices, factories and stores. It's also a fundamental precondition for a healthy market sector, says a new study by Genuine Progress Index (GPI) Atlantic.

"Unpaid household work is important work but it's currently invisible because it appears nowhere in our economic accounts and is therefore not properly considered in making social policy," said Ronald Colman, GPI Atlantic director.

"By measuring and valuing the household economy, more attention will certainly be given to issues like flexible work arrangements that better allow employees to balance work and household responsibilities."

Mr. Colman said that if children are not reared with attention and care, and if household members are not provided with nutritious sustenance, workplace productivity will decline and social costs will rise.

"When we pay for child care and house-cleaning and when we eat out, this adds to the gross domestic product and counts as economic growth and progress.' When we cook our own meals, clean our own house and look after our own children, it has no value in our current measures of progress.

"Thus, shifts from the household economy to the market economy inaccurately register as growth' in the GDP and overstate economic growth rates, since no additional production is actually taking place."

The study, The Economic Value of Unpaid Housework and Child Care in Nova Scotia, also found that while women have doubled their rate of participation in the paid labour force, their share of unpaid work has hardly changed. Using Statistics Canada's time-use surveys, the study showed that Nova Scotian women did 68 per cent of household work in 1961, and 66 per cent three decades later, an average of two hours more per day than men.

Even when two parents are both employed full time, mothers spend an hour and a half more each day than fathers on unpaid household work, the study found. Not surprisingly, it found that employed mothers are the most time-stressed segment of the population, putting in more than 11 hours a day of paid and unpaid work on an average weekday and another 15 hours of unpaid household work on weekends.

Mr. Colman said current workplace arrangements reflect a previous era when there was mostly one main earner and one full-time homemaker; they haven't yet adjusted to the new reality of two earners struggling to juggle home and work duties.

Patricia Doyle-Bedwell, chair of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said this new report is a "strong validation" of the housework and child care performed by women. "There's still a long way to go before society and the market economy recognize and value this work as it should be," she said. "But what a tremendous first step."

The report says Nova Scotians put in 25 per cent more hours a year cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, shopping and doing other household work than hours they work for pay. This unpaid work averages out at 24 hours a week for every adult Nova Scotian, a figure that has hardly changed in a half-century despite the vast array of "labour-saving" devices now available.

Mr. Colman said if unpaid household work were replaced for pay at the average rates of $9.20 per hour paid to domestic workers and $7.58 per hour for child care, it would be worth $8.5 billion each year to the Nova Scotia economy, equal to 51 per cent of gross domestic product at factor cost. In fact, in both hours and economic value, the three largest sectors of the Nova Scotia economy are household food services, house-cleaning and laundry, and shopping.

The GPI report points out that measuring and valuing unpaid household work is key to dealing with vital policy priorities, like ending child poverty. Non-employed single mothers currently put in an average of 50 hours per week of productive household work. If this work were replaced for pay in the market economy, it would be worth $450 each week or $23,450 each year.

The GPI report also notes that valuing unpaid household work will raise important pay equity issues. Work traditionally performed by women and regarded as "free" has also been devalued in the market economy, resulting in significant gender pay inequities. For example, the average rate for child care in Nova Scotia is just $7.58 per hour although it requires vital skills, continuous alertness and represents an important investment in our human capital. As well, part-time domestic services are still exempt from minimum wage laws in the province. These jobs are still almost entirely performed by women.

Mr. Colman said the key issue raised by the study is to see the household not just as a unit of consumption, as conventional economic theory does, but as a unit of economic production.

"In fact, that's the original meaning of the word economy' -- management of the household. From that perspective, too, households may find that time-saving' household devices have not actually saved much time. In the long run, spending less and finding ways of sharing household equipment and facilities may produce greater efficiencies in the household economy and save housework time."

The report is the second data release for the Nova Scotia Genuine Progress Index, which has been designated by Statistics Canada as a pilot project for the country. The GPI will eventually integrate 20 social, economic and environmental indicators into an overall measure of sustainable development for the province. The first report, on the value of voluntary work, was released this summer.

The GPI project is funded by the Department of Economic Development and Tourism and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency under the Canada-Nova Scotia COOPERATION Agreement on Economic Diversification. This GPI report is sponsored in part by the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

NOTE: The following is intended for use by broadcast media.

Work done at home is more important than most people think, according to a new study released today.

The study -- titled "The Economic Value of Unpaid Housework and Child Care" -- says work done at home is more essential to survival and quality of life than much of the work done in offices, factories and stores.

The study by G-P-I Atlantic also found that in families where both parents are employed full time, mothers spend an hour-and-a-half more each day than fathers on unpaid household work.



Ronald Colman
GPI Atlantic 902-826-9020
Chris Hansen
Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women 902-424-4190 E-mail:
Rick Alexander
Economic Development and Tourism 902-424-0927 E-mail:
Julia Watt
Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency 902-426-9305

NOTE TO EDITORS: A complete media kit is available by calling the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, 902-424-4190.

ngr                 Nov. 5, 1998                 11:28 a.m.