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$10.8 Trillion in unpaid, invisible female labour at home

I recently came across this article – Women’s unpaid labour is worth $10.8 trillion, and it basically talks about how globally, women do a lot of invisible work at home that if they were paid minimum wage for, would be valued at $10.8 trillion.

In each country, this is what they found:

Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (Oxfam)

All of that work that women do, if priced at minimum wage is worth $10.9 trillion.

(Read the article above on how they came to that number, plus other great insights)

Not talking about ‘getting a cheque to change a diaper’

Before you jump down my throat, we are talking an intellectual exercise here, in that no one expects anyone to cut a cheque to change a diaper (yes seriously, this is a real live comment I got from a mother who was miffed about my insistence that people who work in the home, should be fairly compensated for their labour and she shot back — well I don’t expect my husband to cut me a cheque each time I change a diaper).

We are talking about what women do at home, put up with and seem to feel like they have no leg to stand on to even talk about it as an issue because no one wants to see it as an issue.

It is much easier if things just stay the way it is, especially for men, who tend to be the ones who work outside of the home (globally speaking).

Men – if you’re at home, you’re in this too!

This is also not to disparage the men who stay at home – you are and should be equally valued in your efforts in what you do. End of discussion.

Unfortunately, it is mostly women who are in the home, so it is “women’s labour” we shall focus on.

Forget gender – think about the individual

I am not bashing men – this has nothing to do with your gender. I do not hate men.

My partner, is actually the one who insisted on equality in the home (and agrees with every point on this post as we have discussed this often), as many other husbands out there do as well — I get lots of messages of women, eager to tell me just how great their husband is too, and really happy to hear me talk about the issue.

This is NOT about all men, just as this is not applying to ALL WOMEN.

I can equally hate men and women, if that helps

I completely reserve the right to NOT support women who do not bring equal work and power to the table, as well as reserving the right to not support men who do this.

Just because I am a woman, doesn’t mean I have to support every harebrained scheme or idea a woman comes up with just because she’s also a woman. Are you kidding me?

I am looking at the INDIVIDUAL

I hate people who don’t pull their weight and for me, it has everything to with equality, fairness, and acknowledgement of what goes on that doesn’t seem to be something anyone thinks about.

This just happens to be a very female-centric issue because it is unfortunately, mostly women who are disenfranchised. What that article states, is facts, research and findings from their studies. It is concrete evidence, not “Oh Sherry just made it up and now she’s getting angry about it“.

FACT: Women globally, simply do more work in the home than men that is unrecognized, invisible, and devalued.

With the good, comes the “bad”, because as my partner does equal work in the home, he also asks for equal work outside of the home to be fair – which is why we are 50/50 on all shared expenses. Yes, even while on maternity leave I paid my half every month without fail.

This works because we make about the same amount — if I made more, I’d pay more, proportionally speaking. And vice versa. Whatever else we do with our money that isn’t paid for shared expenses, is our problem; and we even separately saved for our own retirements (he is now retired on a lean student’s budget, and I am still going but considering cutting back to part-time or only really juicy contracts).

My partner does as a short list, all the cooking, errand-running for the home and groceries, managing of Little Bun’s things he needs for clothing, school, and anything that is his solely like his laundry, and so on. He works quite a lot during the week doing all of these things, because it takes time to meal plan for instance, or to make lists of what to buy, in what quantities, what to stock up on, checking for sales and coupons, etc.

And yet, this is “women’s work” typically, but this is just… for him, housework. He is best at the above tasks, so he does them. I do the other tasks like cleaning, etc.

I am not cutting him a cheque for any of the above, now am I? That would be ridiculous.

I am similarly, also not asking him to do it all and for me to sit back and do nothing, and then to devalue what he does in the home by saying — well I make money and bring it home to pay for all of this, so … you better be grateful you get to stay at home and “do nothing”.

If it ever gets confusing, I always ask myself: If it were a man saying / doing this, would it feel “right”?

…and when it isn’t equal for everyone, it never ever feels or sounds right.

Work at home is simply invisible and not as valued as work outside of the home

Being outside the home, making the bacon, bringing it home — all of that is visible. VERY visible.

Being inside the home – having to cook it, wash up, and handle everything else with no stop to the work clock, is not. It simply isn’t seen because no one else (colleagues, boss, society) recognizes it as being actual work.

It is like they think magical elves do it, and the best example is October 24th 1974 when women in Iceland refused to do this invisible, unrecognized work for a day.

“Iceland’s men were barely coping.

Most employers did not make a fuss of the women disappearing but rather tried to prepare for the influx of overexcited youngsters who would have to accompany their fathers to work.

Some went out to buy sweets and gathered pencils and papers in a bid to keep the children occupied. Sausages, the favourite ready meal of the time, sold out in supermarkets and many husbands ended up bribing older children to look after their younger siblings.

Schools, shops, nurseries, fish factories and other institutions had to shut down or run at half-capacity.”

It is an incredible read – please go and take the time to do so.

Emotional labour doesn’t seem to be counted

By that, I mean the THINKING that goes into everything. In the research above, I see the work is counted only as physical labour – laundry, cooking, cleaning, childcare… but what about the emotional, mental stuff?

Here’s a simple example: Getting children ready for school.

What do you have to do? Make their lunch, make sure they have their homework in their bag or any signed slips, oh they must bring a red shirt today for a Valentine’s celebration, and extra indoor shoes, plus extra donations to give away for the charity drive.

That’s just one morning.

Or if you have a dog, let’s say you have to take them out every morning (as my dog friends tell me); in the winter this is a hassle because you need to take them out, then bring them back in – wipe their paws individually, clean off their coats or dry them off if they got wet, then get food ready for them, set them up for the day before you leave to go to work.

All of the above takes time, effort, thought and planning.

You have to be up at a certain time to give yourself a buffer zone, not to mention also make/eat breakfast, get ready for work yourself, while wrangling the others (human and animal) as well.

This is a small part of what emotional labour means – most guys I talk to, have no freakin’ idea what this even means or what it entails because they’ve never had to do or think about it; usually the women in their lives are the ones who handle it all for them.

Extra bits of emotional labour?

  • Gifts for family members – Quick, who shops for them in your family? Is it you 100%?
  • Thinking/Worrying about family members – Reciprocating at the family meal, helping out, etc
  • Being roped into childcare just because you’re a woman – This is literally what happens to me; I’m the default parent and person for everything related to children
  • Keeping the social ties open – Making plans with friends, family members, managing the family schedule or calendar, making playdates, going to birthday parties (and buying the gift, buying the card, wrapping it all…)
  • Worrying about your children doing well in school – Are they being bullied? Supported? Falling behind?
  • Worrying about your in-laws and your own parents – Elder care is a big thing, especially as I am at that prime age of my parents getting older and less able

… I am sure there are more tasks but these are the main things women mention.

Women have to stop with the “this is just what strong women do” nonsense

Lots of grandmothers, mothers, in my family and in many (if not all) other families, have done backbreaking, continuous, ENDLESS work in the home that doesn’t go appreciated or recognized because “it’s just what women do”. Women themselves, downplay these efforts — “Well a strong woman doesn’t complain, and does it without asking because that is what we do“, is not a good enough excuse to not at least acknowledge and talk about it. Who said anything about complaining?

(You try carrying a 40lb weight on your back while you do all the farming work, cooking, cleaning and washing.. – I actually did this when Little Bun was a baby and it was ROUGH)

Why is it when women talk about basic facts of what they do in the home, it is immediately seen as “whining”, “complaining” or “shouldn’t they just be quiet and thank their lucky stars they’re able to stay at home and DO NOTHING?”

Anyone who has stayed at home with children especially, know that this last part is laughable.. “DO NOTHING”.. is not something that exists in the lexicon of work at home. (LOL)

Pushing a constant rhetoric of “but this is what all strong women do, without complaint, so shut your mouth“, is complete and utter nonsense. In saying so, especially as women, it is contributing to the global suffering of all women out there who then question themselves: “Am I being an ingrate?

No, no you’re not. When work at home isn’t fairly divided, it isn’t fair.

Think about how many hours you work outside and inside the home. In fact, log it. Now compare that to how many hours your partner works inside and outside the home

Now ask yourself: IS IT EQUAL? There is your answer.


Real Life Example: Divorce on the Horizon

My best friend in the other hand is on the verge of divorce because of this. He husband is heavily machismo influenced because of his traditional Mexican upbringing.

They didn’t get married through the church or move in for another 3 years, she was becoming sad he would never propose and not have a traditional Catholic wedding. He’s basically been making her wait to do things.

She’s a teacher and he wants her to work full time to help out with finances. He has his own business and expects hers to do all the bookkeeping/taxes etc of the business.

Everyday he has to have a different home cooked meal (he won’t eat leftovers or the same thing twice in a week) and she has to clean everyday or he’ll come through the door complaining about the house being a mess (it’s not, I go over there) he also doesn’t like her to go to the gym because he thinks she is cheating on him or going out to meet someone else.

And by the way she has 18 mo old twins who he didn’t help out with at all. It’s been hard for her.

There’s no emotional connection and she feels so burnt out. She recognizes if she stays, she will only be repeating her mother’s story, and one of her twins is a girl, so she knows she doesn’t want to look into the future see the situation repeat again.


Checklist of inequality:

  • She has to work outside of the home because they need the money
  • She is expected to also help out with his business and do the invisible work of bookkeeping, taxes, running of the business
  • He isn’t taking off any of the burden of the work at home from her, even though they’re both working full-time
  • They have children he doesn’t help with
  • He has expectations of full-time labour at home to be completed with a fresh meal daily and a clean house

How many jobs is she doing?

  • Outside the Home – Her work
  • Outside the Home – His business
  • Inside the Home – Cleaning, Cooking, Groceries, Errands
  • Childcare – TWINS NO LESS. That’s TWO little rugrats under the age of 5 driving you mental

…And how many jobs is he doing?

  • Outside the Home – His business

When you quantify it, and if you broke it down into hours, you’d really see the disparity.

Be interdependent equals, not dependent

You can be interdependent, but never dependent.

I am interdependent — my life is infinitely better and richer with my partner, than without. We are a shared partnership raising one wonderful little boy, and it is what I hope for everyone out there to have and experience.

What I will never be, is dependent on him.

Even if I stayed at home and didn’t work, I’d know deep down, I could pick up a job, or two, and make it work if I had to. I know how to handle my finances, save, make food, do groceries, run errands, laundry, and take care of myself as an adult and my child.

I would and could do it alone with no help. It would be a hard yakka for sure, but not impossible.

I hope this gives women the chance and strength to be strong and make a decision that will benefit them in the long-run. Having to go through this kind of stress, and emotional turmoil for years, and for that to be the model of what your children see, is also something quite painful.

My mother has always disparaged the “broken home”, so I grew up with a traditional view that divorce was not possible, especially with children.

Now, as I am older and wiser, I am of the mindset that everyone should do what is best for them and their children.

If it means divorce and each parent is happier apart than together, that’s what it means. It is not worth the pain and suffering to stay with someone when you’re both so desperately unhappy.

For women:

To be able to divorce and be apart, also means you have to have the financial means to be able to support yourself and your family, with no reliance on anyone else – a lot of men are good eggs out there who pay child support on time, but I am sorry to say that I hear more bad than good, of men reneging on their “blood money” as these bad eggs have called it, to their ex-wife and families.

They don’t see it as paying child support .. for their children, but that their ex-wife is taking a pound of flesh from them, which in many cases, is not even enough to cover their childrens’ basic schooling and other such needs, to be frank.

If you take anything away from this – it is that you should think about what you as a woman does without even realizing it, and if you are a man, think about what the women in your life do, without you realizing it.

This was not meant to be a post to shame anyone at all – but it had to be said.

Thoughts? Experiences? Please share.


  • Susan Tan

    This entire article is reason enough to not ever have children and re-affirms my belief that kids are bringing an unequal burden on women everywhere in the world. Not worth the extra labor to take care of kids when in the future, there will be caretaker robots and at-home care for my future older self. I wonder how the invisible labor applies to lesbian couples and single women, if at all, because not having any children is the meaning of freedom.

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      Stay a happy aunt. Honestly, one child is enough for me. I love him to death, and I cannot imagine not having him, but children are definitely work. Only you can figure out if it is worth the reward.

  • Steveark

    We are boomers and having a stay at home parent wasn’t that unusual. But I never tried to influence my wife’s choice. I was happy when she chose to stay home because that made my life much easier and allowed me to focus on my job outside the home because she focused on hers at home. We were both agreed that every dollar of income that came in was not mine or hers but ours. I never spent more than $40 on something without clearing it with her and she did the same. It wasn’t a rule or anything we just both felt we should be open about how we spent our money, because it was our money, not mine or hers. When I inherited seven figures of family money it went into our Joint account immediately, didn’t have to, but as an equal partnership that’s what you do, it was as much her money as mine even if it came from my family. She always knew she could leave me and leave as a rich woman anytime she wanted to, but fortunately she hasn’t. I don’t think there is an issue with who earns the money if it all belongs to both of you. I think she always bore more risk since I had the high earning career but by building up assets quickly in joint accounts she was always in a position of being able to walk away with half of a lot of money. That alone took the risk away of her being financially vulnerable.

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      You did it the smart / right way. A lot of guys also do this too, but then either hamstring their wives by not “allowing” them to spend money by not giving them a debit card (financial abuse), or not involving them in any money decisions, unlike what you’ve seem to have done. I get so many private messages on this issue it scares me….

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