In an interview with the Institute for New Economic Thinking, Care Work and the Economy lead researcher for the Rethinking Macroeconomics group Elissa Braunstein of Colorado State University explores social reproduction from a macroeconomic perspective. She explains how processes of economic growth need labor, both paid and unpaid, as an input; yet macroeconomists almost never treat labor as something that is being produced. Instead, labor is approached as a natural resource that occurs spontaneously on an as needed basis. Essentially, the efforts put forward to produce and care for another human being in terms of time and money is neglected within macroeconomic models. This is particularly relevant to gender roles in which women are primarily tasked with the time aspects of care work. Because of the tendency within macroeconomic models to emphasize the market sectors of activities, they neglect to include time and resources dedicated to the labor force (including unpaid care work), or to incorporate them as a macroeconomic issue that needs to be reconciled or addressed. However, by including processes of social reproduction, like that of care work, into these models, macroeconomists have the potential to better understand dynamics within and outside the market. Additionally, the relevance of gender roles and responsibilities have significant macroeconomic causes and consequences within these dynamics.

See the full interview to better understand the theoretical work Elissa has done incorporating social reproduction into a macroeconomic model of growth and development. This work allows for a better understanding of the implications of market force participation as it pertains to unpaid care work performed by women, the transitions within these roles from the non-market to the market sector, and subsequent changes in the dynamics of production. By incorporating social reproduction into these models, greater comprehension on the causes and consequences of macroeconomic dynamics can be achieved, in addition to resulting in direct economic consequences.  Through this work she also emphasizes that gender equality is smart economics.


Unpaid Work, Animated

About half of all the time devoted to work in the U.S. is devoted to unpaid work in the home. The Institute for New Economic Thinking has created an adorable animation of some comments I made in an interview with them on this topic a while back.

It’s quite a lot of fun, and basically accurate. Just don’t pay too much attention to the numbers they inserted into my discussion of two families, each with a market income of $50,000–the animation seems to imply that leisure should be assigned a monetary valuation–not something I advocate. Still, the main point comes through just fine: conventional measures provide a misleading picture of living standards.

The animation provides a great introduction to the topic for students, and you can find a more academic version of the basic argument in a short briefing paper I wrote for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

Original blog published on CARE TALK: FEMINIST AND POLITICAL ECONOMY on June 11, 2020. See here for the original posting.

Reposted with permission from Dr. Nancy Folbre from University of Massachusetts Amherst and an expert researcher for the Care Work and the Economy Project within the Rethinking Macroeconomics working group.