Is unpaid work not valuable?


Anyone who has done care work knows that it’s not appreciated, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have value. It’s necessary, right?

If money really makes the world turn, than something that isn’t worth money must not be valuable, right? Even if it’s still necessary. Unpaid work is all that stuff that we do at home that isn’t leisure. It’s all the volunteering that we do for the benefit of those who can’t pay us. There are some out there who can afford to pay others to do some of this work, like cleaning the house and child care. That infuses it with value while we’re paying others to do it, why don’t we value the people in our home that we don’t pay to do it?

I’m not going to insist that every mother or at home dad is treated poorly, or even that most are. I am going to insist that many who do these things don’t feel appreciated. There’s a big difference there. I can appreciate not having to do something, but that doesn’t mean I appreciate who did it. It definitely doesn’t mean that I tell them how much I appreciate it every time that they do it. It doesn’t mean that I value the necessity of that thing or that person all the more for relieving me having to do it, either. According to Gender, Work, and Economy, unpaid work isn’t even factored into the way our economy works, even though most unpaid work has a paid market and some paid work makes the rest possible. We don’t factor unpaid care work into the average cost of child care because it isn’t paid. We don’t give it worth in the economy or with money. It’s just something that happens, even though not all of us could pay someone to do it. It’s not factored in despite that it causes problems when not done.

Even volunteers aren’t terribly valued. I’ve heard it said that you can’t count on volunteers. I took it as insulting at first, but I understood later. Many who volunteer do so when it gives them some special pleasure or they’ve assigned their own value to it. If they stop enjoying it or see that the value has diminished, they back out or they’ll only go so far. They won’t be there when things get hard like they are in their jobs that pay them. They don’t need to volunteer so they don’t put into it what they do for paid work. Whole this isn’t true of all volunteers, organizations have to be ready for those who will back out. I’m sure this doesn’t help the status of unpaid work. But then it comes back around to that if it were valuable, you’d pay me to do it, right?

Where this gets into a gender mess is that it is mostly women who have an unpaid second shift. With the increasing number of at home dads and the increasing value given to fatherhood, the second shift appears to be getting better. I’ve discussed this aspect before. I don’t think it’ll be considered a second shift if it’s split evenly among parents or people living in a home together. Men are doing more housework and child care than ever and it seems to still be on the rise. This could open up all kinds of opportunities for women and whoever else is currently doing that second shift in your home. Unpaid work sucks because you only get the satisfaction out of it that you put on the task to begin with. The satisfaction of having a clean house makes you clean it, for example. It isn’t valued by society at large though. Unpaid work has to have a value that you put on it yourself.

That brings me back around to the argument that some make that women are supposed to do the unpaid work in the home. This argument appears to be on the decline and I can appreciate that, but it has always made me wonder something about the men who talk about what valuable work it is for women to be doing. If it were really that valuable to you, wouldn’t you do it yourself?

I guess not. There are also plenty of women who have championed this idea while not actually staying at home and taking care of their children either. To me, that negates their argument. How can you say women should do that when you don’t? More importantly, why should I listen to you about what women should be doing when you are one who isn’t doing it? I don’t understand those women at all.

Nevertheless, we must infuse unpaid work with it’s value on our own. Is the unpaid work in your home valuable to you? Is the person who does it treated like valuable member of the team? Do you remember that it is yet another workplace for that person?