The care economy: an opportunity to create jobs and close the gender gap

  • The care economy is generally not considered a productive activity and is mainly carried out by women.
  • But data collected by the Colombian government shows that the care economy could have a significant impact on a country’s GDP.
  • Reforming pay standards behind the care economy would benefit women who cannot take other jobs due to time constraints.

Over the past two years, experts have measured the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on various productive industries in the global economy. But the care economy, a sector deeply affected by the lockdowns, hasn’t received enough attention from experts.

The care economy includes the activities that people perform every day, often in our homes, including household chores or caring for other people, such as infants or the elderly. These chores, such as cleaning a house or buying groceries, are generally unpaid, let alone considered productive. But, as a global society, we can still make changes to this outdated perception. To illustrate the case and suggest changes, we will use data from the care economy in Colombia.

The National Statistical System, locally known as DANE, is responsible for collecting statistics and information in Colombia. Due to a law passed in 2010, the first of its kind in the Americas, DANE calculates the care economy for its potential earnings.

This law allowed the care economy to fit into the national accounting system and meant DANE measured it by its potential impact on the country’s GDP. Thus, for the first time in the region, chores and household chores were observed from an economic perspective. The law also broadened the concept of care economy, which until then only encompassed proper care activities and did not include other tasks such as shopping.

The importance of the care economy, measured

The results of the potential volume of this sector in the Colombian economy are surprising. Ten years after the first measurement, the technical bulletin 2020 revealed that the care economy would account for approximately 20% of Colombian GDP, which in 2014 exceeded 380 billion dollars. According to this reading, the care economy would rank above the financial and agricultural sectors in the gross product ranking. Even though these numbers suggest that the care economy plays a vital role in Colombian daily activities, many of these tasks are neither recognized as productive nor seen as work.

The importance of this invisible sector in Colombian society suggests an opportunity to take the care economy out of a simple family circle and transform it into a formal productive industry.

Formalizing the care economy

We propose that the care economy should become a paid sector or, in other words, be formalized. We expect the formalized care economy to create jobs from currently unpaid activities.

But many households can only benefit from the care economy if it is accessible. We recommend that, even paying, the care economy remains accessible to all. It must pay off, but it must also impact all social sectors.

Global gender gap 2021

Image: World Economic Forum

Our proposal is that once the care economy is transformed into a truly productive industry, the state bears the cost of care and care for the most vulnerable people – those who cannot afford market rates. On the other hand, the market should supply the remaining sectors, whose purchasing power will cover the costs of these new remunerated activities. The care economy can therefore exist within the framework of a mixed market approach.

According to DANE measurements, particularly according to data observed in its 2012 and 2017 surveys, Colombian women spent 31 hours per week on unpaid care work, which represents 78% of their working hours. But men, on the other hand, spend less than half the time on the same activities.

In 2022, 50% of Colombian women cannot access the labor market because they are expected to spend their time as cleaners. In this sense, the formalization of the care economy represents a historical repair of the work done by women. It is also an essential step in the movement to eliminate the gender bias that only women should oversee the household. Formalizing the care economy would help close the gender gap.

A paid care economy will impact the entire population

In conclusion, the formalization of the care economy implies job creation, a larger wage bill, an increase in GDP and an improvement in women’s rights. So, it’s not about paying housewives: formalizing the care economy will help distribute tasks among people who can do it for pay. In other words, it is about creating employment for the whole population with a rallying cry to take care of others.

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