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Income Distribution: Value of unpaid work
Growth in the value of unpaid work
In 1997, the value of unpaid work was $261 billion compared with $225 billion in 1992, a rise of 16%. The total hours spent on unpaid work also increased from 19.0 to 19.4 billion hours. These increases reflect rises in wage rates and population numbers. However, over the period, the value of unpaid work as a proportion of GDP fell from 54% to 48%. Several factors contributed to this fall.
First, unpaid work is largely undertaken by women. Between 1992 and 1997, the labour force participation rate for women rose by 3%, while the participation rate for men fell by 1%. This meant women had both less time to perform unpaid work and more income to purchase replacement services from the market. In keeping with this, the value of unpaid work performed by women decreased slightly from 64% to 63%. Similarly, the demand for formal child care increased. Between 1993 and 1996, the proportion of children aged under 3 years enrolled in formal child care increased from 17% to 22%.2
Second, unpaid work is valued using wage rates for occupations which correspond to selected household activities. These occupations have, for the most part, low skill levels. Their associated wage rates grew more slowly between 1992 and 1997 than did wage rates for more skilled workers. For example, the wage rate for domestic housekeepers rose by only 9% over the period while the wage rate for all workers rose by 22%.2
VALUE OF UNPAID WORK(a)
Source: Unpaid Work and the Australian Economy 1997 (ABS cat. no. 5240.0).
Third, there were different economic conditions in 1992 and 1997. In 1992 Australia was emerging from a recession, while in 1997, the economy was stronger. GDP rose by 32% over the period.
While much of the unpaid work undertaken in households needs to be done regardless of economic conditions, when there is a strong demand for labour in the market economy (i.e. during periods of growth), unpaid work will decline as people move into paid employment.3 When this occurs, less unpaid work is done as people either modify their unpaid work practices (e.g. cleaning less often or cooking simpler meals) or purchase replacement services from the market (e.g. by using child care services or buying takeaway food).
As a result, not only is the value of unpaid work less responsive to changes in economic conditions than paid work, its value decreases relative to paid work during times of economic growth (and vice versa). Consistent with this, the value of unpaid work did not experience the same rate of growth as paid work and GDP between 1992 and 1997.
Other factors such as the changing size and composition of households, trends in housing, and rapid growth in technological innovation may also have impacted on the value of unpaid work.
Unpaid household work
In 1997, unpaid household work accounted for 91% of the value of unpaid work, with 65% of the value of this work being performed by women. Women who were not employed contributed the greatest proportion, at 37%. Conversely, a greater share of unpaid work was attributed to men who were employed (21%) than men who were not (15%). In part, this reflects the fact that a higher proportion of men than women are employed. For all persons, the activities which accounted for the highest proportions of the value of unpaid household work performed were food and drink preparation and cleanup (22%), child care (13%), purchasing (13%) and transport (12%).
However, the proportions of the value of all unpaid household work attributed to men and women varied for some activities, which partly reflects the differing amount of time spent by men and women on these activities. For example, food and drink preparation and cleanup made up a larger proportion of the value of women's total activities (24% for women who were employed and 27% for women who were not) compared with men’s (16% and 18% respectively). Similarly, laundry, ironing and clothes care, (11% for employed women and 10% for women who were not employed) made up a greater share of the value of unpaid work performed by women than that performed by men (3% regardless of whether or not they were employed).
DISTRIBUTION OF THE VALUE OF UNPAID HOUSEHOLD WORK, 1997
Source: Unpaid Work and the Australian Economy 1997 (ABS cat. no. 5240.0).
Conversely, there were some activities which made up a greater proportion of men's share of the value of unpaid household work compared with women's. Home maintenance made up 12% of the value of unpaid household work done by men for those both employed and not employed, compared with between 1% and 2% of that performed by women. Gardening, lawn care and pool care also comprised relatively greater shares (11% for employed men and 17% for those who were not employed, compared with 4% and 6% respectively for women).
The proportion of the value of unpaid work attributed to various individual activities performed by women varied little according to whether or not they were employed. However, for men there were two activities for which the proportion of the value of unpaid work for employed men varied noticeably from the proportion for men who were not employed. This is because men’s participation in employment is closely related to their age.
Younger men, that is men of the age most likely to have dependent children, tend to be employed. Conversely, men who are not employed are more likely to be past retirement age and therefore less likely to have young children. This is reflected in the higher proportion of the value of child care for employed men (14% compared with 6% for men who are not employed). In contrast, outdoor activities such as gardening, lawn care and pool care constituted a larger share of the value of unpaid work performed by men who were not working than by those who were (11% and 17% respectively). This partly reflects the greater time available for unpaid domestic work of this kind to men who are not employed compared with those who are employed.
Unpaid volunteer and community work
In 1997, unpaid volunteer and community work comprised 9% of the value of unpaid work. The relative shares of the value of this unpaid work for women and men were 56% and 44% respectively. As with unpaid household work, the largest share was attributed to women who were not employed (35%).
DISTRIBUTION OF THE VALUE OF UNPAID VOLUNTEER AND COMMUNITY WORK, 1997
Source: Unpaid Work and the Australian Economy, 1997 (ABS cat. no. 5240.0).
The proportion of the total value of volunteer and community work attributable to individual activities varied to some degree between men and women who were employed and those who were not. For employed men and women, adult care constituted a smaller proportion of their share of the total value of unpaid volunteer and community work than was the case for those not employed (6% and 3% for employed women and men respectively, compared with 10% and 7% respectively for women and men who were not employed).
1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2000, Unpaid Work and the Australian Economy, 1997, cat. no. 5240.0, ABS, Canberra.
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2000, Unpaid Work and the Australian Economy, 1997, cat. no. 5240.0, ABS, Canberra.
3 Ironmonger, D, 1989, ‘Households and the household economy’, in Households Work, ed Ironmonger, D., Allen and Unwin, Sydney.