Gender, Care and Value Accounting

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John C. Havens:

"When the GDP was developed in the early 20th century, caregiving and raising children were considered women’s work, not worthy of inclusion in the metrics comprising the score. As Riane Eisler, president of the Center for Partnership Studies and author of The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics, notes, “Studies show that if caregiving work were included, it would constitute between 30% and 50% of the reported GDP.”

This “household” or “nonmarket” product—which beyond caregiving activities includes cooking, gardening, and housework according to a 2012 report—is not only economically significant but, if measured, could improve women’s lives (or the men who do equivalent tasks). Were the GDP to be updated in 2018 to recognize that women globally provide these essential undervalued services, metrics would likely change to better incorporate the fundamental activities that underpin traditional economic measures. As the report states in its findings, “Home production reduces measured income in equality.”

But society has chosen not to update this outdated metric. And as a result, the GDP is sexist. Plain and simple. It’s time to upgrade the system to galvanize “household production”—and the women who provide the majority of it—as something worthy of measure.


“The GDP is sexist because it adopts a framework of value creation and productivity that is traditionally anchored on individualistic, male-dominated activities,” says Lorenzo Fioramonti, professor of political economy at the University of Pretoria and author of The World After GDP. “It relegates all activities that have to do with care, nurturing, and community support—[which are] traditionally performed by women—to the margins of economic value creation.”

People may appreciate the fact that women (or men) are caregivers, but they don’t value those activities at the same level as the other economic factors measured in the GDP. One can understand empirically that caregiving and raising children is important, but in terms of economic measures, awareness alone won’t evolve issues of women’s rights. Until society creates and utilizes indicators that recognize and factor caregiving into universally recognized metrics, it will never be equal.

“One effect of GDP is that it justifies government policies that allocate little or no funding to support the essential work of caregiving,” Eisler says. “This is a major factor in the disproportionate poverty of women worldwide, as it is women who still primarily perform this work for free in households, with no retirement or pensions.” Eisler expands on these ideas in her TEDx talk “Building a caring economy,” where she proposes the concept of “caring economics”: a system that provides fundamental equality for the nonmarket services that are largely performed by women.

Caregiving also takes a physical and emotional toll on the people who provide it for others.

According to a study cited in “Women and Caregiving: Facts and Figures from the Family Caregiver Alliance National Center on Caregiving”:

  • 25% of female caregivers rated their own health as fair or poor (compared to 17% of non-caregivers)
  • 54% had one or more chronic health conditions (vs. 41%)
  • 51% exhibited depressive symptoms (vs. 38%)
  • 16% were twice as likely in the past year not to get needed medical care (vs. 8%)
  • 25% had difficulty getting medical care (vs. 16%)

In effect, this means not only that women are not rewarded equally for nonmarket work but are penalized for it.

“GDP is hurting both men and women because it sends a message that who you are as a person is not as important as how much money you make or stuff you have,” says Laura Musikanski, founder of The Happiness Alliance, a non-profit whose mission is to improve the well-being of society by increasing understanding and appreciation of the factors that lead to life satisfaction, resilience, and sustainability. “Can you imagine a world in which you were esteemed as highly for caring for your children or aging parent as if you were a top earner?”" (

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