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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

"Unpaid" care work / How hard is it to be a homemaker?

A common feminist complaint is that stay-at-home wives/mothers are do care work for free.

A reasonable critique is that this does not show up in GDP statistics, which undervalues the contribution of women in doing care work.

An unreasonable one is that they are being oppressed and exploited since they are unpaid.

Presumably, feminists think that stay-at-home wives/mothers live off air and water from public water coolers.

In reality, we know that even though stay-at-home wives/mothers do not get a formal salary, they are still receiving remuneration of a sort (otherwise they would be unable to survive). Typically this is in the form of having their bills paid by, and getting an allowance from their (male) partners/husbands. And this doesn't attract taxes!

A related issue is: how hard is it to be a homemaker?

While it is fashionable to claim that this is a very hard "job", further reflection will challenge this thought.

As a friend of mine comments, "it's true that houswives very free lor. my mum is always chasing all the kdramas".

More formally, a homemaker's home role can be seen as a combination of 2 roles performed by non-homemakers - the home role of working adults outside of work and that of a childcare worker (that a homemaker without children has an easy time of it is presumably uncontroversial).

The first role is not that hard, given that so many people do it already (on top of their day jobs).

Perhaps one might say that a homemaker has higher standards to live up to than a working adult. For example a homemaker might vacuum the floor every day rather than a working adult's weekly frequency. But these higher standards are not intrinsic to the role, but are rather self-imposed or socially-imposed.

As for the second role, I don't think people will claim that childcare workers have an extremely demanding job either.

Consider too that childcare workers have multiple children to care for, but a homemaker almost always has fewer (unless she is extremely fecund, but those are rare - for reference in Singapore from 1 January 2012 the minimum carer:child ratio for children aged 18-30 months is 1:8; in the OECD it is on average 1:7 at most).

Of course, a homemaker presumably puts more effort and soul than a childcare worker into taking care of his children, but he also typically has fewer to take care of. In addition, the implications of this for working parents are not something most people are comfortable with (this also ties into the point on higher standards).

Of course, it is not hard to be a homemaker in the sense that special skills or effort are not needed. That doesn't mean that it is not hard in the sense of being easy to bear. I think many people might not be able to be homemakers, as the role is potentially very boring and understimulating.
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