Skip to main content

The value of unpaid work and care

Weekly Economic Briefing

Increasing female participation in the paid labour force has been an economic goal of successive Australian governments – and there have been some improvements over time, particularly in areas of the workforce where there is greater flexibility. But overall female labour force participation (60.7% in 2019), is still well below that for males (71.0%).

One area getting in the way of further progress here is the large degree of gender inequality that persists in unpaid work, and that impacts the participation of women in the paid labour market.

Analysis commissioned by the Victorian Government’s Office for Women has found that unpaid work and care in Victoria was worth $206 billion in 2017-18, or the equivalent of half of Victoria’s total Gross State Product (GSP).[1] This captures the economic value provided by household and domestic work, caring for the ill, disabled and elderly, caring for children and volunteer work.

Chart 1 below shows that household and domestic work accounts for most of this value, at $130.5 billion. Caring for children and caring for the ill, disabled and elderly are estimated to provide more value per hour, but many more people engage in household and domestic work on a regular basis

Chart 2 demonstrates that the average female provides 1.6 times more value in unpaid work and care than the average male. This arises from women spending an additional average of 13.1 hours per week on unpaid work and care than men.

Yes it’s true that men generally participate more in the paid labour market, but this doesn’t make up for the full gap, leaving women spending an average of 1.4 additional working months’ worth of time on paid and unpaid work combined per year.

The goal of more equal gender representation within the paid labour force won’t be sustainably achieved unless we also address the imbalance in unpaid work. By quantifying the significant contributions made by unpaid work and care, business and government may be able to formulate more effective policies when attempting to address gender inequality.

For further coverage of this research and to see the full report, please follow this linkURL. 

[1]The values presented in this brief were estimated using the replacement cost method, where the values of unpaid work and care are based on what it would cost to outsource this work to paid market. Values were also estimated using the opportunity cost method. These values can be found in the full report and are similar to those estimated using the replacement cost method.