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The discovery of “unpaid work”: the social consequences of the expansion of “work”


  • Susan Himmelweit


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Susan Himmelweit, 1995. "The discovery of “unpaid work”: the social consequences of the expansion of “work”," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 1(2), pages 1-19.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:femeco:v:1:y:1995:i:2:p:1-19 DOI: 10.1080/714042229

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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. repec:dgr:rugsom:96c01 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Lecq, Fieke van der, 1996. "Dualism in economic thinking : two views compared," Research Report 96C01, University of Groningen, Research Institute SOM (Systems, Organisations and Management).
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. Susan Donath, 2000. "The Other Economy: A Suggestion for a Distinctively Feminist Economics," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 6(1), pages 115-123.
    7. Julie A. Nelson, 2013. "Gender and caring," Chapters,in: Handbook of Research on Gender and Economic Life, chapter 5, pages 62-76 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    8. Margaret Lewis & Kimmarie McGoldrick, 2001. "Moving Beyond the Masculine Neoclassical Classroom," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 7(2), pages 91-103.
    9. Paula Rodríguez-Modroño & Lina Gálvez-Muñoz & Astrid Agenjo-Calderón, 2015. "The hidden role of women in family firms," Working Papers 15.01, Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Department of Economics, Quantitative Methods and Economic History, revised Dec 2015.

    More about this item


    Caring; domestic labor; household; housework; labor; work;


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