Women around the world participate less in labour markets than men, receive lower incomes and are more involved in unpaid work.
Yet, the classic model of gross domestic product (GDP) ignores essential activities that take place outside work markets. These include activities such as household work, voluntary work, child-rearing and caring for the elderly. A feminist economics perspective however recognises the paid and unpaid work of both women and men.
Read on to learn more about what feminist economics is and why it’s important.
What is feminist economics?
Feminist economics is an economic policy that promotes gender equality and parity, and the position of the most vulnerable.
In addition to economic growth and competitiveness, feminist economics aim to improve the wellbeing of people and the environment. Long-term social and ecological sustainability is also key.
Feminist economics isn’t just about carrying out reforms that promote equality or women’s rights. It also requires a completely new way of thinking about the economy. Why so?
Economic policy and the economy generally involve background assumptions about what the economy is and what kind of activity is economically valuable. However, many of these underlying assumptions underpin gender inequality. In recent decades, feminist economics has emerged to address the roots of this gender inequality.
Why is women's work often invisible?
Unpaid work and care that is often considered as women’s duties are not seen as part of the economy. Therefore, unpaid work and its providers remain invisible in economic policy. Sectors that women dominate are not seen as important and productive as male-dominated sectors. For example, public welfare services and their female-dominated workers are seen mainly as costs. At the same time, these female-dominated sectors also have lower salaries.
Ignoring unpaid work and low wages of professions, such as nurses, are part of the same continuum of undervaluation of women’s work.
It’s important to challenge these economic ideas that perpetuate gender inequality. Therefore, we should think of the economy more broadly than at present. For example, recognising the economic value of unpaid work and caring, and seeing them as an integral part of the economy.
How does feminist economic policy view housework and care?
The national accounts or the calculation of gross domestic product (GDP) don’t currently take unpaid work and care into account. Domestic and care work account for trillions of hours a year, and its economic value is significant. According to the Office of National Statistics, the value of the UK’s unpaid household service work was estimated at £1.24 trillion in 2016. This is equivalent to £18,932 per person. Overall, unpaid household service work was equivalent to 63.1% of GDP.
Including unpaid work in decision-making would shed new light on cuts in care services and efforts to make them more efficient. Cuts or streamlining of services would no longer be seen as savings but as a transfer of work and costs from the state and councils to families and individuals.
From a feminist economics perspective, it would also be important to have a policy aimed at sharing unpaid domestic and care work. For example, in family leave reform, the sharing of care should be a key goal.
Feminist economics & personal finance
Whether it was lower income or more time spent on unpaid work, the current economic policy undoubtedly has a huge impact on women’s and families’ personal finances. We have seen slow improvements in this area but we still have a long way to go to make the society more equal.
The system might never be perfect, yet it’s easy to become a victim of it. Fortunately, we can all improve our finances and financial wellness with our own actions. From paying off debt to finding alternative streams of income, small actions can make a big impact long-term. But where do I even start, you might think.
You probably agree that they don’t teach us enough about personal finances at school. Therefore, educating yourself on the topic is the best first step to take.
Like many other areas of life, male voices have traditionally dominated economics. Throughout history, women have been subject to systems and structures that privilege male perspectives at their expense. Feminist economics is here to challenge this version of reality.
Perhaps the most important thing to recognise about feminist economics is that it’s about a lot more than just women’s rights. It’s a way of looking at the economy for anyone who identifies with the ideas that:
- the economy is influenced by social norms
- there’s a problem with the idea of counting the economy in households
- we can be motivated by market growth but also by the wellbeing of people and the environment
Despite some progress in recent years, the various areas of feminist economics are not covered enough. While the system keeps improving, you can do the same. Get started by educating yourself on personal finances. It is the best investments you can do for your future – even when the economic policy is not on your side.