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The Discovery of 'Unpaid Work': the social consequences of the expansion of 'work'

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  • Susan Himmelweit

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    (Department of Economics, Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University)

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    Abstract

    This paper questions the dichotomy of work/nonwork. It examines the way in which the category of work was expanded by feminists and economists to include much domestic activity, and considers some of the consequences of this expansion. It argues that the discovery of unpaid "work" involved an uncritical application and validation of a concept of work abstracted from a model of commodity producing wage labor in manufacturing. However, this concept excludes much of what is distinctive about domestic activities, such as their caring and self-fulfilling aspects. Inequality between households has become a conduit for the construction of needs in a form in which "work", and in particular work for money, is needed to satisfy them. Some consequences of this tendency are examined together with the policy concerns which would need to be addressed in order to mitigate its deleterious effects. The development of a feminist economics which transcends the polarization of life into "work" and "nonwork" is argued to be vital in this process.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by The Open University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Economics in its series Open Discussion Papers in Economics with number 6.

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    Date of creation: Jun 1995
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    Publication status: Published in Feminist Economics, Volume 1, Number 2, July 1995, pp. 1-19(19)
    Handle: RePEc:opn:wpaper:6

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    Web page: http://www.open.ac.uk/socialsciences/about-the-faculty/departments/economics/research/discussion-papers.php
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    Keywords: Caring; domestic labor; household; housework; labor; work;

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    Cited by:
    1. Margaret Lewis & Kimmarie McGoldrick, 2001. "Moving Beyond the Masculine Neoclassical Classroom," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 7(2), pages 91-103.
    2. Dan Wheatley and Zhongmin Wu, 2011. "Work, Inequality, and the Dual Career Household," Working Papers 2011/03, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham Business School, Economics Division.
    3. Wiseman, Virginia, 1997. "Caring: the neglected health outcome? or input?," Health Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 43-53, January.
    4. Zdravka, Todorova, 2009. "Employer of Last Resort Policy and Feminist Economics: Social Provisioning and Socialization of Investment," MPRA Paper 16240, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. David Brennan, 2006. "Defending The Indefensible? Culture'S Role In The Productive/Unproductive Dichotomy," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 12(3), pages 403-425.
    6. Hendrik Van den Berg, 2014. "How the Culture of Economics Stops Economists from Studying Group Behavior and the Development of Social Cultures," World Economic Review, World Economics Association, vol. 2014(3), pages 53, February.
    7. Ailsa McKay, 2001. "Rethinking Work and Income Maintenance Policy: Promoting Gender Equality Through a Citizens' Basic Income," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 7(1), pages 97-118.

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