Unpaid Care Economy – A long-ignored issue

Gender inequality is one of the social issues that everyone lends their ear for but is solicited by only a few intellectuals. It is a part of the discussions long drawn from the problems pertaining to patriarchy, disempowered females, and poverty. However, what most of us fail to draw our attention to is the importance of allocating time efficiently for women, to make them independent enough to utilise their time as and how they wish to. This opinion wants to drive home an important point about the consequences of the unpaid care economy, which has encapsulated majority of the female population.

To elaborate, ‘time poverty’ – a concept which describes the relative shortage of time for leisure for a person who is employed – is a case in point here. It can also be seen as a consequence of the burden of the unpaid care economy, which eats up most of the time for women. Evidence suggests that the burden of such work falls disproportionately on women, leading them either to withdraw from the labour force or reduce their working hours to compensate. 352 minutes, on an average per day, are spent on the unpaid economy by a woman, as against 52 minutes spent by a man, says OECD. It is a striking fact that shows the severity of gender inequality, where Indian women invest 577% more of their time looking after domestic chores and taking care of their children.

A theory by Claudia Goldin  asserts that labour force participation (LFP) of married women first declines and then rises as countries develop, in correspondence to ‘Feminisation U- Hypothesis’. To put it in a simpler context, “it is when women are poorly educated, their only wage labour outside the home and family farm is in manual work against which a strong social stigma exists, but with higher education and their absorption into white-collar jobs, the stigma disappears”. However, what recent data suggests is the non-compliance of Feminisation U-hypothesis, about the effects on the unpaid care economy. It happens when women with higher education in urban areas are withdrawing from the labour force, rather than devoting their time to their paid work. It is because women having children below the age of five years are most likely to be constrained to participate in the labour force, due to their responsibility of taking care of children, and justifying her ‘traditional’ role as a woman. The ongoing debates on declining LFP should be enough to realise the importance of conducting time use surveys (TUS), to recognise the portion of time spent in the unpaid work, and the paid work.

Falling Female Labour Force Participation

It is a well-known fact that India has fallen into the trap of declining female labour force participation from 36.7 % in 2005, to 26% in 2018[n1] , [1]while accrediting its loss to the problem of time-allocation between children and work – also known as ‘motherhood penalty’. It, therefore, makes it crucial to honour the statistical invisibility of the care economy, and to monetise the efforts of mothers. It was last in 1998-99 when a time use survey was done to ascertain the number of hours spent by each gender on paid as well as unpaid work. Regular conduct of TUS is an essential step towards helping recognise the existing gender differentials, and therefore, it seems to be an adequate tool to inform about gender parity.

Nevertheless, it is equally crucial to introduce policies that relate to the concerned matter, such as gender budgeting efforts are undertaken at both national, as well as sub-national levels. Gender budgeting itself does not translate itself into better opportunities for women but provides a way to improve the infrastructural facilities for the same. The restrictive architecture of safe public transport is one of the key impediments for increasing female LFP, and it is therefore required to incentivise women to contribute to the paid economy. Creating day care centres, creche facilities, paid maternity leaves can be some of the features of infrastructural improvements.

It is rightly said that sometimes some people (read women) have to put in double the efforts of other people (read men) to achieve the same stature. Still, it is the women who have to face the hardships to become successful. A well-informed policy decision is one that helps to transcribe the efforts with the implementation with effective monitoring and evaluation. It is no longer a surprising phenomenon that if women and men are equally representatives in the employment, then the GDP is likely to increase by 27%, which is a remarkable growth (Christine Lagarde)[2].

Gender discrimination on account of the labour market 

It is often argued that development acts as an antidote to gender inequality, but evidence suggests otherwise (Duflo 2012). [3]Gender segmentation of the labour market has severe consequences on the quality of work and abysmally low workforce participation of women. One of the critical outcomes of gender segmented market is the unpaid care economy, which obligates women to work at home, rather than utilising their skills at the workplace. It entails the below stated consequences.

It is more often than not stated that an organisation performs relatively better if it has women leaders, the credit of which can be attributed to their entrenched higher emotional intelligence quotient. Therefore, organisations having lower female participation are likely to fall short of their potential growth. It is not a surprising fact that India’s non-inclusive growth will hamper India’s global position on the gender development index[4]. There lies a problem of segmenting the work into paid and unpaid for women, thus, hampering females’ productivity in the paid work. Moreover, the issue of time poverty places a significant burden on females to be able to perform to their best potential. Therefore, it seems necessary to introduce policies that can enhance the freedom of women, rather than constrain the same.

India has long been trying to widen opportunities for females through ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan’, ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ policies, but the poor implementations of the same do not seem to work well with the developmental agendas of the nation. A formation of a separate committee needs to be formed, which can exclusively look into the matter concern, and look into the ‘why’s’ and ‘how’s’ of the policies. It is essential because men continue to spend more time in gainful employment opportunities, whereas females still have a long way to go. A separate quota of at least 50% of female employees should be created in all the organisations, whether private or public, thus, ensuring the increased participation of females. Moreover, Zomato’s new gender-neutral policy of parental leave of 26 weeks is undeniably an indispensable move in the direction of gender equality, which if adopted by other organisations, can prove to have everlasting positive impacts. Gender budgeting has to been adopted by almost all the states, but a need for legally institutionalising the same remains an influential agenda and can have proved to be crucial in achieving gender parity.

Concluding remarks

Therefore, what remains a challenge for India is a well-defined policy space, which talks not only about how those policies can be a substantial addition to the existing pool of policies for improving say, female labour force participation but also how such policies are a driving force for solving the ancient problems such as long-persistent gender inequality. A policy tool which raises questions about wage inequality for females is highly required, as this remains to be one of the crucial problems that discourage females from working in the formal sector. All in all, a holistic view is needed to be in place to talk about effective implementation of public policies, as women can be the backbone of any nation’s economy which has about half of its population as females.


  1. Duflo, Esther. “Women Empowerment and Economic Development.” Journal of Economic Literature 50, no. 4 (December 2012): 1051-1079.

[1] https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/female-labour-force-participation-in-india-falls-to-26-pc-in-2018-from-36-7-pc-in-2005-report-119030800270_1.html

[2] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/gender-parity-can-boost-indias-gdp-by-27-wef-co-chairs/articleshow/62589586.cms

[4] http://hdr.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/IND


Komal Jain

Komal Jain

Komal is presently working as a research associate at NEERMAN, a research and consulting firm based in Mumbai. Prior to joining NEERMAN, she interned at National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, a think-tank based in New Delhi, focusing on studies that relate to gender budgeting. She has completed her Masters’ in Economics from Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics and has majored in Economics from the University of Delhi.

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