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What unpaid labor represents to the Brazilian economy

. Nov 03, 2020
What unpaid labor represents to the Brazilian economy Photo: Sergey Mironov/Shutterstock

Since March, when governments around Latin America started to enact lockdowns and other social isolation measures, several sectors of the economy either slowed down or were brought to a standstill. One, however, was unaffected: unpaid labor, largely comprising care work and homemaking. 

In Brazil, these activities — predominantly carried out by women — are not factored into the calculation of the country’s GDP. But despite lying invisible, this area is an important element of the economy — in some countries, it represents up to one-fifth of GDP.

</p> <p>&#8220;Our societies organize the production of goods and services based on the relationship between capital and labor, but the labor force does not come out of nowhere. Unpaid domestic work plays an essential role in producing and reproducing the labor force every day,&#8221; explains Corina Rodríguez Enríquez, an economist and social science Ph.D. teaching Economics and Gender at the University of Buenos Aires.</p> <p>“If this work — done by more women than men — did not exist, there would not be a labor force able to participate in the market. Without a workforce, capital cannot produce anything, hence the argument that this work is essential to the functioning of the economic system,&#8221; she adds.</p> <h2><strong>Invisible women</strong></h2> <p>Homemaking and <a href="https://www.ipea.gov.br/portal/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=35255&amp;catid=10&amp;Itemid=9">domestic chores</a> in Brazil are still largely split down gender lines. Data from the <a href="https://biblioteca.ibge.gov.br/visualizacao/livros/liv101722_informativo.pdf">National Household Sample Survey (Pnad)</a> showed that in 2019, 93.1 percent of women took part in unpaid labor, while that rate was just 81.9 percent among Brazilian men. Beyond homemaking, the survey also involved care work, production for own consumption, and volunteering.</p> <p>While showing a stark disparity, the results were an improvement on figures from 2016, when 75 percent of men over 14 years of age reported to take part in unpaid labor.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-scatter" data-src="visualisation/4225209"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>Elsewhere in Latin America, efforts have been made to measure the contribution of unpaid labor and factor it into national GDP calculations. Since 2008, Mexico&#8217;s National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics (INEGI) has produced information about the participation of the sector in the GDP by way of its <a href="https://www.inegi.org.mx/temas/tnrh/#Informacion_general">satellite accounts system</a>.</p> <p>In 2018, 23.5 percent of the Mexican GDP was made up of unpaid domestic work. Women homemakers alone accounted for 17.7 percent.</p> <p>The methodology used by the INEGI to measure the value of unpaid domestic work is the substitution cost, taking into account the cost of hiring a person to carry out the same tasks for pay, and the average salary of domestic workers.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/4225303"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>In September of this year, Argentina&#8217;s Economy Ministry used the same method to develop a report on the contribution of unpaid domestic and care work in the country&#8217;s GDP. The department used a similar survey to Brazil&#8217;s Pnad, exploring how the Argentinian population uses its time. Data published in 2013 revealed that 88.9 percent of women participated in domestic work, while just 57.9 percent of men did the same.</p> <p>Of the men who said they did take part in unpaid homemaking or care, they declared spending an average of 3.4 hours per day to said tasks. Argentinian women, on the other hand, dedicated 6.4 hours to the same type of work.</p> <p>Furthermore, the Argentinian report examined the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the importance of unpaid work to the country&#8217;s GDP. They concluded that, under normal circumstances, unpaid domestic and care work made up 15.9 percent of the GDP — during the pandemic, this rose to 21.8 percent.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-hierarchy" data-src="visualisation/4225352"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2><strong>Women facing their own crisis</strong></h2> <p>According to Ms. Rodríguez, the pandemic has made the essential nature of care work all the more apparent, but provoked a peculiar crisis: with the sudden disappearance of support networks outside of the family — the closure of schools, for instance — women have been forced to step out of the workforce and take care of their household.</p> <p>In other crises, the opposite trend is seen: as the labor market deteriorates, women increase their participation in paid work, only returning to unpaid activities as the crisis recovers.</p> <p>Ms. Rodríguez also points out that even for those women who did not abandon the workforce, instead moving to remote work, the pandemic has only served to increase their labor precarity.</p> <p>“The boundary between working and family life becomes less and less clear. Furthermore, the line between paid and unpaid work, and between work and care, have also been blurred. This is very dangerous for women, who work and care at the same time,&#8221; she adds.</p> <p>Reverting this landscape in Latin America could require increased investment from governments in creating care policies, which would also increase the quantity of jobs in the sector, predominantly filled by women.</p> <p>“If this were the strategy, maybe we wouldn&#8217;t be seeing this &#8216;K-shaped&#8217; recovery [where one sector recovers after a crisis, while others continue deteriorating]. (&#8230;) In some countries there is no political will for state investment. In others, such as Argentina, there is the will, but the economy is still very deteriorated. I don&#8217;t know when we will see this recovery, but I believe we have an enormous road of suffering ahead,&#8221; Ms. Rodríguez concludes.

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Aline Gatto Boueri

Aline Gatto Boueri is a data journalist. She has had her work published by Gênero e Número, Universa UOL, Marie Claire, Projeto Colabora, among others.

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