Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Real Value of the Chores in Our Lives

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Real Value of the Chores in Our Lives

Article excerpt

Home economics traditionally gets about as much attention from the economics profession as cooking-and-sewing classes get from teen-age boys - that is, next to none.

But paying more attention to housework can teach us a lot about the way the economy works, and can even help us think more clearly about some public policy issues, says University of Rochester professor Jeremy Greenwood. After all, the average married couple spend 25 percent of their discretionary time on cooking, cleaning, child care and other household chores. That's not much less than the 33 percent spent on paid work.

And, according to Greenwood, some rudimentary attempts to measure the value of housework have come up with figures ranging from 20 percent to 50 percent of gross national product.

Think about why you paint the house, mow the lawn or scrub the bathtub. (Most of us don't do it for the exercise.) You could, after all, hire someone else to do it - and you would, if it came down to a choice between mowing the lawn or earning a couple of hundred bucks working overtime at the factory.

If you paid a lawn service $20 to cut the grass, that would get counted in the official economic statistics. If you do the same work yourself, the $20 isn't counted.

And yet, the amount of child care, vacuuming and meal preparation you "produce" at home says something about the state of the economy. When times are good, people work more overtime and more couples become two-earner households. They create time for that extra marketplace work by sacrificing some do-it-yourself projects.

But the standard economic model used in real-business-cycle theory doesn't consider housework. All labor-market decisions that individuals make are considered to be choices between paid work and leisure.

How many of us, though, would put laundry on our list of favorite leisure-time activities? Greenwood says we should think of the labor-supply decision as a three-way choice: leisure, paid work or unpaid work at home. By including that third choice, the real business cycle model should come closer to representing the way real people make decisions.

Greenwood and two co-authors, Richard Rogerson of the University of Minnesota and Randall Wright of the University of Pennsylvania, did the math in an article for the Quarterly Review published by the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank. …

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