IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

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


  • Susan Himmelweit

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


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'," Open Discussion Papers in Economics 6, The Open University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:opn:wpaper:6

    Download full text from publisher

    To our knowledge, this item is not available for download. To find whether it is available, there are three options:
    1. Check below whether another version of this item is available online.
    2. Check on the provider's web page whether it is in fact available.
    3. Perform a search for a similarly titled item that would be available.


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    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. 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. 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.
    4. Singh, Neera M., 2015. "Payments for ecosystem services and the gift paradigm: Sharing the burden and joy of environmental care," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 53-61.
    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. 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 1-53, February.
    7. Hendrik Van den Berg, 2015. "La ortodoxia económica desalienta el estudio del comportamiento colectivo," Revista de Economía Institucional, Universidad Externado de Colombia - Facultad de Economía, vol. 17(32), pages 13-37, January-J.
    8. Margaret Lewis & Kimmarie McGoldrick, 2001. "Moving Beyond the Masculine Neoclassical Classroom," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 7(2), pages 91-103.
    9. Wiseman, Virginia, 1997. "Caring: the neglected health outcome? or input?," Health Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 43-53, January.
    10. 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;


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:opn:wpaper:6. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (IT team member). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.