How much money is housework worth? A recent court case in China gave a housewife compensation for doing all of her family’s housework, while her husband did not help at all. Millions of hours of unpaid work are done every year. Let’s discuss this further on this episode of Thinking in English!

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72. How Much Money is Housework Worth? (English Vocabulary List)

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Vocabulary List

Invisible (adj) – impossible to see

These bacteria are invisible unless viewed with a microscope

Undeniable (adj) – certainly true

She is a women of undeniable brilliance 

Contribution (n) – something that you contribute or do to help produce or achieve something together with other people, or to help make something successful 

This invention made a major contribution to road safety 

Paternity leave (n) – a period of time that a father is legally allowed to be away from his job so that he can spend time with his new baby 

Many fathers decide not to take paternity leave

Asset (n) – something valuable belonging to a person or organization that can be used for the payment of debts

A company’s assets can consist of cash, investments, specialist knowledge, or copyright material 

To compensate (v) – to pay someone money in exchange for something that has been lost or damaged or for some problem 

Victims of the crash will be compensated for their injuries

Commitment (n) – willingness to give your time and energy to a job, activity, or something that you believe in

My manager won’t promote me because she says i lack commitment 

In every single country on earth, women earn on average less than men. There are many different reasons for the gap in wages; including the length of time spent working, different industries paying different wages, and less women working in managerial positions. Maybe one day in the future I’ll talk in more detail about the wage gap and its causes. But today, I want to focus on one reason in particular: “Invisible work.” 

Invisible work is, simply put, work that you’re not getting paid for. While both men and women can do “invisible work,” it is undeniable that women make up the vast majority. By unpaid work I do not mean volunteering or internships, but things like cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children. The contributions of housewives and stay-at-home parents are often overlooked and underestimated. But they shouldn’t be! Unpaid housework and household chores are vital to our modern economies. In fact, according to figures calculated from Office of National Statistics data by Young Women’s Trust in the UK, the unpaid work of young women aged 18-30, such as cooking, cleaning and taking care of children, is worth £140 billion to the UK economy, And this would be significantly more if the figures included all women of all ages!

Earlier this year I read an article covering a recent divorce case in China which actually inspired this episode. A court in China ordered a man to pay his wife $7700 for the housework she did during their five-year long marriage. The wife said that she “looked after the child and managed the household chores while [her husband] did not care about or participate in any other household affairs besides going to work”. This might sound like a familiar story to many of you! It is common in almost every country for the majority of household chores and housework to be performed by women! In China, for example, women spend about four hours every day on homework, while men only do an hour and a half. In India, the gap is even wider, with women doing approximately five hours every day and men just 30 minutes!

On Chinese social media sites, the response was very positive. If anything, commenters were disappointed that the wife was only given $7000 – many people she deserved more! China has recently started to take women’s rights more seriously, as well as trying to encourage men to take a more active role in child care. For example, many provinces have now introduced paid paternity leave for fathers. However, it is often too short to really make a difference!

Outside of China, there has been less success in arguing for extra money in divorce settlements. Normally, divorce in the west is based on an equal, fifty-fifty, split of a couple’s assets; housework does not change this! However, in 2020 a woman in the UK was awarded £400,000 (about $520,000) for g leaving her career as a lawyer to focus on raising her family and childcare. However, she was not compensated for housework, but because she has quit her legal career. She was a very successful lawyer and one of the top performing employees at her law firm, but had quit for her family.

In many situations, women often have no choice to leave their jobs to care for children and families. Often, this is because the cost of paying for childcare may be more than the money they would earn from working!  However, there are probably better solutions than asking for compensation in a divorce court. One solution would be for governments to encourage both parents to be more involved in raising children. Perhaps offering more paternity leave, and asking companies to be more understanding of fathers home commitments could be useful. If fathers have more time at home, and are more involved in parenting, then dividing housework is also easier. The most important step would be to encourage men and women to share more of the domestic responsibilities! Share the cooking, cleaning, and caring responsibilities!

Final Thought

In this episode of Thinking in English, I have looked at how much unpaid work is worth. Around the world, women, especially, do the majority of housework and household chores. Economists have often struggled to estimate the value of this “invisible work” to national economies, but it is certainly important! If you were to hire someone to do your cooking, cleaning, ironing, and childcare, you would likely be spending hundreds of dollars a week! What do you think? How much money is household work worth? In your country, is responsibility for chores shared? Would you want to be compensated for your domestic work?

By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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