The supposed ‘solution’ to the economic crisis is premised on cutting costs. It is therefore important to highlight the role that women’s subordinate position in the economy plays, as this will allow - and is allowing - for many activities to continue on an unpaid basis.

History has already shown how women are used differently at different economic junctures. Whereas the war economy of the 1920s and 1930s put women to work, it sacked them in the 1940s to give their posts to the soldiers coming home from the front. The ‘marriage bar’, that is, the prohibition of married women to enter certain better-qualified professions, which was in place in some industries until the 1960s, kept women in low paid jobs. According to Maria Angeles Durán, 2/3 of the total working hours today are unpaid caring-type of activities - done almost entirely by women.

In this process, men remain the rightful workers and economy managers whereas women’s involvement in the labour market is dependent on their caring-burdens and market needs. A 2007 research paper by Aguiar and Hurst shows that in industrialised countries full-time working women spend an average of 23 hours per week in unpaid housework and between 6 and 12 hours in unpaid childcare, this latter being between 2 to 4 times more than what men do.1 In the UK, this can be up to 60% of the total activities women do.2

According to the latest data on occupation by gender in the UK 69.4% of the cleaners, 81.5% of the social workers, and 87.7% of the nurses, are women. But women only make up 6.8% of engineering professionals.3 Women overall earn about £90 less per week than men. As such, women do the bulk of unpaid caring activities, they represent the biggest percentage of care-type jobs, and of the lower-paid professions.

Keeping care as an unpaid or poorly paid activity not only allows for huge savings to the economy, but also it creates an economy based on competition, the market and growth, rather than on need and affection. More importantly, these parameters allow “the economy” to be defined quite apart from many activities relevant to our lives, such as childcare. This tends to assign responsibilities and value through constructed social hierarchies, ultimately giving privileges and control to heterosexual white rich men.

Looking at the economy of care brings up that ‘caring’ is not so much something that women do because they are born to do so, but because of very precise and at times coercive economic measures. It is on these bases that our feminism needs not to aspire to the privileges men have but to attack and subvert the social hierarchies that sustain capitalism. 

1. Aguiar, Mark and Erik Hurst. 2007. ‘‘Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time over Five Decades.’’ Quarterly Journal of Economics 122(3): 969–1006.
2. Office for National Statistics. 2006. The Time Use Survey, 2005. How We Spend our Time, London: HMSO. Table 4.4
3. Office for National Statistics. 2011. Emp16: All in Employment by status, occupation and sex. Quarter 2 (Apr - Jun).

Similar articles