Unpaid work, while largely uncovered in the media, makes up a substantial part of our lives. The average American woman spends 4 hours per day performing household chores and caring for her relatives, while the average American man spends 2.5 hours per day on such tasks. These numbers skyrocket in low-income countries where the burden of unpaid work is so high it prevents many from taking a professional job or getting a proper education.
Our calculator find the monetary value of all the unpaid work you do, to help you to allocate your time better. You only have twenty-four hours each day; should you spend most of them doing chores? Or maybe it'll be better for you to take a paid job and budget in some help with your housework?
Keep reading to find out:
how much your unpaid work is actually worth,
why economists should put a dollar value on household work,
and what can we do to solve this issue!
What is unpaid work, exactly?
Intuitively, unpaid work is work for which you don't receive any remuneration. Any time you perform basic household chores (such as cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, grocery shopping, etc.), or do care work (take care of children, the sick, or the disabled), you are engaging in unpaid work.
This form of work is often called unpaid care, which suggests that this is not work. When you take a closer look, though, you will see that it bears a strong resemblance to professional work: it uses your time and energy to produce either goods (such as meals, snacks, or clothing) or services (such as cleaning, care, or transport). However, unpaid work can often be less fulfilling: it is often repetitive, has no promotions, no retirement options, and limited opportunities. You may also never be thanked for it.
Since this work goes unpaid, it is largely invisible. According to Time to Care: unpaid and underpaid care work and the global inequality crisis, a report released by Oxfam International, the yearly unpaid work of women around the world has a value of at least $10.8 trillion. It is, however, difficult to estimate the worth of an hour of cooking, cleaning, or other care activities, so governments (especially those in the Global South) often don't measure the time spent on unpaid work.
Unpaid work is a problem, especially in rural communities and low-income countries - according to Oxfam, women in these situations usually spend up to 14 hours a day on care work, up to five times more than men. Even in OECD countries (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), the unpaid work is unequally distributed: on average, women spend 4 hours a day on unpaid work, twice the time that men do.
Full-time, part-time, or SAHM/SAHD?
Unpaid work can be so time-consuming that many people have to work part-time or stay at home to deal with its burden. Our calculator helps you check whether it is more viable for you to do it all by yourself or share it with others - either family members or external services. You will immediately see which option makes the most financial sense, based on your results: should you have a full-time job, a part-time job, or become a stay-at-home mum (SAHM) or dad (SAHD)?
Here's how to use our calculator:
Pick the country you live in.
Decide which salary you're going to input: is it your monthly salary, your weekly wage, or even your hourly wage?
Input the details of your professional work: how many hours per week you work, and how much you earn. If you are currently unemployed, input the average salary for the occupation you'd expect to do.
What if you don't know this number, either? Don't worry - you can just leave the default value of $23.33, which was the median hourly wage in the United States in 2019.
Here comes the most important part: estimate the time you spend on different chores during a week. How many hours do you spend cleaning, cooking, or doing the laundry?
Our calculator will use open-access data to calculate the value of your unpaid work. We use a replacement cost approach, which means that we try to estimate how much it would cost you to outsource these tasks to external providers.
You can see the average cost of each task (for your country) in the
advanced mode, where you can change them if you wish. You can find the data sources for the default values in the References section below.
Our calculator will also compare this number to how much money you'd make if instead of doing household chores, you devoted this time to professional work.
Finally, you can simulate different scenarios, in which some of your unpaid work is outsourced to external services, taken on by your family, or shared between the two. You will immediately see what impact it will have on your family budget.
Side note: our calculator will not allow you to increase your working time to over 40 hours per week. Putting in overtime is, in the long-term, harmful for both your mental and physical health!
Why we should care about unpaid work: the Care Diamond
For those of us who are content with the amount of housework they do, the issue of unpaid work might seem completely unnecessary. Why should we care? And, more importantly, why are we trying to put a monetary value on housework? After all, it's not like the government will pay you for it. (At least not unless you live in Sweden. This country is sick, in a good way.)
To understand why it's important, let's consult Unpaid Work and the Economy: Linkages and Their Implications, an in-depth analysis by Indira Hirway from the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College.
Hirway argues that in well-functioning states, care is provided to all who need it by at least one of four institutions: households, governments, markets, and voluntary organizations. These four institutions are collectively called the "Care Diamond". If some of these options are unavailable, the government is expected to fill in the gaps.
Let's take food as an example. To eat, you can either cook for yourself (household) or buy ready meals in exchange for money (market). If you're unable to do that, you can get support from either organizations, such as the Red Cross (voluntary organizations), or directly from the government - for example, in the form of unemployment benefits.
Another example might be health care. If you're not extremely sick, you can get help from your family members (household). You can also decide to pay for private health care (market), or use public health care (government). Some NGOs also provide health support to people with no social security (voluntary organizations).
We have a good picture of the number of people who get their care from governments, markets, and voluntary organizations. Governments collect statistics on those they support, and NGOs provide extensive documentation. Businesses in the market report their income, which makes it easy to assess how much value they provide.
Household care, though, is not properly measured. We have no idea how many people are cared for at home rather than consult a doctor in the case of a cold. This way, unpaid work provides services that the government is expected to provide. Every time you do unpaid work, in a way, you subsidize the government!
Imagine that public finances are in trouble, and the government decides to lower its budget on health or education. If there are no viable alternatives, the cost and burden of this care are transferred directly to households. If we don't measure the monetary value of unpaid work, how will we know whether our government is doing a good or an atrocious job at providing us with social care?
The Triple "R" Approach: Recognize, Reduce, Redistribute
Now that we know how crucial unpaid work is, both for individuals and the whole economy, let's think about solutions. How can we ensure unpaid work doesn't stay invisible, and how can we make sure it's integrated into the economy?
In her paper Recognize, Reduce, and Redistribute Unpaid Care Work: How to Close the Gender Gap, Diane Elson suggests the Triple "R" approach: Recognize, Reduce, Redistribute. This concept is especially important for low-income countries that struggle with the issue of unpaid work.
Recognize refers to giving visibility to unpaid work. This is precisely what we are doing with our calculator - we help put a monetary value on housework to make sure it doesn't stay invisible. Naturally, it is vital to do it not only on an individual level, but on a national and international level as well.
Reduce stresses the need to minimize the time spent on unpaid work by improving technology, infrastructure, and connectivity. For example, providing a basic water supply reduces the time needed to bring water from a distant well, and using vacuum cleaners makes cleaning much faster than with a broom.
Redistribute refers to a fair distribution of unpaid work both within an individual household and within the "Care Diamond." On one hand, members of one family should share the chores more or less equally; on the other hand, certain unpaid work (such as child care or taking care of the disabled) can be transferred to widely available social care.
Oxfam International adds a fourth "R" into this framework: Represent. They emphasize that none of these changes can happen if people who do most of the unpaid work remain underrepresented among decision-makers.
Make sure to introduce this framework at home! Recognize the amount of unpaid work you're doing by using our calculator. Then, take steps to automate and simplify chores to reduce the time you spend on it. And finally, decide how you're planning to redistribute the housework based on the results from our calculator. Maybe your kids will participate in cleaning? It's a great way to teach them responsibility. Or maybe you can order takeaway twice a week instead of cooking meals every night? Whatever it is, make sure to think both about the financial perspective and your happiness!
References - the average cost of services
The average cost of services in Australia: Australian Bureau of Statistics - Employee Earnings and Hours, May 2018
The average cost of services in Canada: Government of Canada - Wage Report, November 2019
The average cost of services in the United Kingdom: Office for National Statistics - Earnings and hours worked, 2019
The average cost of services in the United States: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics - National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, May 2018