Our place in time: Making unpaid work count

Why is it that buying cow’s milk to feed babies contributes to gross domestic product (GDP) and economic growth, but breastfeeding babies has no measurable economic value?

Milking a cow is viewed as “productive” work, economically quantified in government statistics, and recognised as essential. Breastfeeding is not.

Unpaid work dominates the global economy but takes a back seat in economic discussions and policymaking. Everyday tasks, such as caregiving and household chores, must be recognised for what they are – invaluable unpaid labour that enables paid work to be done.

This paper was prepared for HESTA, the industry superannuation fund for people working primarily in health and community services. It includes survey responses from HESTA members that shows how the unpaid care they do outside work hours impacts their overall paid employment and mental health.

But we will never fully understand the labour market until we are accounting for the indispensable unpaid work underpinning it.

This paper discusses why unpaid work needs to be quantified the need for unpaid work to be properly recognised and considers the need for effective time use surveys to gather this information.

September 2023
Rebecca Thistleton