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)

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


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.


  3.  Report by International Labour Organization on ‘Status of Women in India’ (,d.bmk)
  4.  Introductory Macroeconomics (NCERT Textbook, Class XII)

Guest Series: Should housewives be paid salaries? Part 1 of 3


This short series of three posts was written by Anuradha Rao, a first-year economics student at New Delhi’s Lady Sriram College, as part of a two-week internship at Prajnya. The posts lay out the pros and cons of acknowledging household work, an important feminist issue.

Should housewives be paid salaries?

Earlier this year, the Union Women and Child Development Ministry in India drafted a bill which if passed would make it compulsory for husbands to pay a specified portion of their income to their stay-at-home wives for doing household work. This generated reactions from across India and restarted an age-old debate on waged domesticity.

The role of housewives in society and their contribution to a country’s economy have been subjects of discussion across the globe for several decades. There is consensus about the fact that housewives perform economic activities; the matter under dispute is if they should receive monetary compensation for the same. In a series of three blogposts, I attempt to shed light on the issue of payment of salaries to housewives, with special focus on principle-based arguments in favour and against the topic.

Working at home

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word housewife as ‘a married woman whose main occupation is caring for her family and running the household’. In American jargon, housewives are better known as ‘stay-at-home-moms’ or ‘homemakers’ while the newly drafted bill in India requires them to be addressed as ‘home engineers’. The infrequent case of a househusband also needs to be considered, but is often kept out of discussions on waged domesticity due to its relatively rare occurrence!

Under the status quo, housewives in most countries of the world perform unpaid labour. According to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international body helping governments tackle the economic, social and governance challenges of a globalized economy), unpaid work is the production of goods and services that are not sold in the market. The difference between unpaid work and leisure is determined by what is known as the “third person criterion”- if a third person would have to be paid for performing an activity, then that activity constitutes unpaid labour. For example, cooking a meal is unpaid work whereas watching a movie is leisure. [1]

Who gives how much?

Some natural questions that arise while considering remuneration for housewives are regarding how their wage is determined and who shells out the money. In 2007, the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez implemented a system under which economically underprivileged housewives are eligible to claim 80 per cent of the minimum wage from the government. [2] In the same year, the Swedish government under Prime Minister Reinfeldt announced that Swedish parents would be paid by the State for staying at home after the birth of a child until the child turned three. [3] Recently, the FDC (Freedom from Debt Coalition, an NGO in Philippines conducting advocacy work to realize a common agenda for economic development) has been pressing the Government of Philippines to pay housewives an amount equivalent to the minimum wage. This was following a study conducted by the FDC, which said that the quantified efforts of a housewife approximated the work of a maid and hence entitled housewives to wages. [4]

In September 2012, the Union Women and Child Development Ministry in India considered tabling a bill that requires husbands to pay 10-20 per cent of their wages as an honorarium to their housewives. [5] This move triggered a positive reaction among some advocates who hailed it as being a step towards formally recognizing a housewife’s value. [6] However, it also evoked a lot of disapproval on the grounds of implementation and effectiveness. A majorly criticized aspect was that the husbands themselves were asked to dole out money to their wives thus suggesting an impractical employer-employee relationship within the household. Monitoring the execution of such a law in a country with a population of more than a billion would be next to impossible. [7] Many activists also pointed out that housewives having husbands earning different levels of income would be paid proportionately despite performing the same amount of work, which is extremely unfair [8] and hence, payments need to be made by governments as proposed in other countries. The Ministry did not elaborate on how such a bill would be practically implemented if passed.

In the next two posts, I will examine the issue from both points of view. Due to lack of clarity regarding details about implementation of the Indian Ministry’s proposal, I will present arguments assuming that wages to housewives would be given by the State.


  1. Cooking, Caring and Volunteering: Unpaid Work Around the World: A paper by Veerle Miranda, published in OECD iLibrary

In the news: “Are Women Children Of A Lesser God “


Ragini Nayak “Are Women Children of A Lesser God”, The Hindu, May 2, 2010

“What is the worth of a woman’s work in terms of monetary outcome? Is it on a par with her male counterpart?

The Human Development Report 2000 says that women constitute half of the world’s population, perform a two-thirds of work hours, get one-tenth of the world’s income and less than a one-hundredth of the world’s property.

From daily wagers to lawn-tennis grand slam winners, women are being paid less than men for the same or similar work. Women remain the weaker sex with respect to pay-cheques and employment opportunities.

A major contention often raised is: if women’s work is usually of equal value, why are employers not slashing their payroll costs by hiring women instead of men? If they are paying men more than women in a free market, there must be a reason. Conversely, it is argued that equal pay for women is not just an issue regarding pay/wages inequality between men and women but it reflects upon the social, cultural and political perception of women as being physically and intellectually inferior to men.

Let us realise that a comprehensive effort has to be made to subvert the male perception of women’s economic worth and initiate the use of job classifications established on the basis of the work actually performed and the value of the work using objective criteria unrelated to the worker’s sex.”