Guest Series: Should housewives be paid salaries? Part 2 of 3

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Anuradha Rao makes the argument that domestic work should be compensated.

Arguments in favour

There are several arguments in favour of paying housewives for their work. Housewives should be paid because they have the right to earn money for their services; because it benefits them as individuals and as a community; and because it corrects an inherent defect in measurement of national income. Elaborations follow!

Work entails payment

In labour markets, people sell their services in exchange for money. They earn fixed wages on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

Housewives perform a plethora of activities everyday. Take the example of a typical Indian-middle-class housewife’s day- it involves cooking and tending to children. The housewife also does the dishes, cleans her home, washes clothes and completes the shopping. Besides these chores, she looks after her aged parents and in-laws apart from other relatives in case of a joint family.

The product of this housewife’s work is the cooked food she serves on the table (which is very different from the inedible raw ingredients purchased from the market), cultured and well-behaved children (better human capital), washed vessels and clothes (a wage payment is involved when such work is outsourced to servants) and healthier family members (absence of their upkeep could result in more visits to the doctor).

Clearly, a housewife renders economic services (fulfilling the requirement of the “third person criterion” I wrote about in my previous post) that entitle her to economic remuneration. In fact, a UK-based site conducted an online survey to understand the different roles played by a housewife and the wage she should ideally earn. After adding up the average wages received by professionals in the market for performing the same jobs, the researchers concluded that the annual worth of an average housewife in the UK is £ 29,771.56. [1] [2]

Economic empowerment

Through history, women all over the world have been subject to stereotypes that portray them as inferior to men. In the Indian context, a woman is expected to perform duties within the household while her husband is the breadwinner of the family. [3] Since housewives are not paid for the work they do, social norms put them on the lowest rung of the economic ladder where they are completely dependent on other individuals for money. Without alternative sources of income, these women are left in vulnerable positions.

Housewives are also viewed as less capable than working persons because unlike other jobs, performing household chores does not bring them any tangible monetary benefit. Quantifying their work and paying them wages not only raises their standing in a society that equates wealth with social status but also gives them a degree of financial freedom.

Giving a housewife a salary translates into giving her access to a certain amount of money over which she has exclusive control. Thus empowered, she can participate in taking money-related decisions within the household as well as outside it. She can plan her finances and can make investments, spend at will, send money to her parents, put money into insurance and savings and even provide for future contingencies like divorce.

Women without their own financial resources have limited choices when it comes to making economic decisions. Housewives will no longer be victims of economic abuse if they are rewarded monetarily for their efforts.

Macro level effects

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is defined as the total value of all final goods and services produced within a country during a given year. One of the reasons why the GDP is not considered to be a good indicator of economic welfare is that there are several goods and services contributing to economic welfare, which are not included in the GDP of a country. [4] A good example of this is the services of housewives. Exclusion of such services results in the underestimation of economic welfare. In a country like India, which excludes the contribution of crores of women performing domestic labour in its annual GDP estimation, economic welfare is highly undervalued. Adding the wages paid to all these housewives will result in a more accurate calculation of the GDP.

References

  1. http://www.tribuneindia.com/2012/20120905/main6.htm
  2. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7252504.stm
  3.  Report by International Labour Organization on ‘Status of Women in India’ (http://www.google.co.in/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CC0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ilo.org%2Fpublic%2Fenglish%2Fregion%2Fasro%2Fbangkok%2Flibrary%2Fdownload%2Fpub96-01%2Fchapter2.pdf&ei=FojHUJO5IpCsrAesioC4Aw&usg=AFQjCNHPVJg8FWGpd4WMl5VpChuQFZKrsg&bvm=bv.1354675689,d.bmk)
  4.  Introductory Macroeconomics (NCERT Textbook, Class XII)
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