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


In this last post, Anuradha Rao points out the arguments that are made to counter the call for compensating housework.

Arguments against

Many activists believe that paying housewives could actually spell doom for society. They believe that housewives should not be paid salaries because household obligations are personal and should be kept outside the purview of commercial exchanges; because social backlash that will follow is highly counterproductive; and because inflated growth will get recorded at the macro level.

Commercializing housework

The tasks that housewives perform do not adhere to fixed job descriptions and cannot be generalized across the millions of diverse households that exist in a country like India. [1] Division of labour within different homes is not watertight- in some families, the grandparents may take care of the children and the husband might do the cooking!

Besides, there are some economic activities that do not entail compensation due to the existence of non-monetary or indirect rewards. This is the biggest difference between providing services within the household and in the market.

A housewife acts as the support system without which her household cannot function smoothly. It is thanks to her efforts that her husband is able to go to work and earn wages. She is thus indirectly paid a salary by virtue of her husband earning one. Also, a lot of the work she does is of her own accord such as cooking food or taking care of her children. This means that she receives some form of non-financial remuneration such as a sense of satisfaction or pleasure that motivates her to continue performing these tasks voluntarily. There is no expectation of quantitative returns; which implies that attaching a price tag to housework is actually demeaning and belittles the priceless contribution of housewives.

Counterproductive effects

Determining the salary of a housewife by averaging the salaries she would earn by providing each of her services in the market equates a housewife’s worth with that of a maid, nanny or nurse. Society would now treat housewives with even more contempt than before making them nothing but exalted servants. Wages can never reward the love and affection that sets the efforts of housewives apart from services provided by domestic help.

The salary of a housewife can never be as much as that of a high ranking government official or CEO which simply reinstates in quantitative terms the stereotype of a housewife being less capable than working professionals. This only worsens the situation by reinforcing the low position occupied by housewives in the social hierarchy. Far from being empowering or liberating, the payment of salaries to housewives will further cement the role of women as that of caregivers confined within the four walls of the house.

Husbands and other family members can then easily pass on their existing share of household chores to housewives (after all, they are getting paid for it!). The burden borne by housewives in this case is far greater than the compensation given to them, thus highly undervaluing their contribution.

False growth record

Some economic activities are kept out of GDP estimation for a reason. Charity, a voluntary act of providing services to those in need is an example of an activity that is not taken into account while estimating the GDP of a country. [2] Similarly, housework performed voluntarily not just by housewives, but also by other members of the family (such as in the earlier example of grandparents looking after their grandchildren), is traditionally excluded from GDP calculations.

The Indian government could treat salaries given to housewives as an easy way to record phenomenal levels of growth and reduced unemployment at the national level. Then, in the global economic arena, India would be on par with many developed countries. This would lead to complacency and a reduced focus on the planning and implementation of development policies that benefit society and boost a country’s GDP. [3]


  2.  Introductory Macroeconomics (NCERT Textbook, Class XII)

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