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Heather Ricketts | Women’s contribution: The half has never been told

Published:Thursday | March 30, 2023 | 12:27 AM
Heather Ricketts
Heather Ricketts

A RECENT report from the United Nations Economic and Social Council estimates that the value of unpaid care and domestic work ranges between 10 and 39 per cent of GDP. Unpaid care work includes the direct care of persons in one’s household, such as children, elderly family members and persons with disabilities, while domestic work includes activities such as cooking, cleaning and washing. This unpaid care and domestic work (UCDW) is critical to the functioning of families and usually takes up a large proportion of an individual’s time.

There is no direct measurement of UCDW in the System of National Accounts, hence its contribution is neither valued nor reported in measures of economic performance such as GDP. As it now stands, the accepted way of accounting for the economic contribution of UCDW is through determining the time that persons spend engaged in these activities. This is usually captured and reported in national Time Use surveys.

In 2018, a Time Use survey was conducted in Jamaica through the inclusion of a module in the Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions (JSLC), administered jointly by the Statistical Institute and the Planning Institute of Jamaica. It represented the second such Time Use survey, the first being in 1993.

In examining the survey results, a number of interesting findings emerged. First, it was clear that women were spending more than twice (2.23 times) the time spent by men on UCDW. The largest time difference between women and men was evident in the amount of time spent caring for dependent household members. Specifically, and in terms of relative time spent on the activities, caring for young children under six years and helping children six-14 years with homework, showed the largest disparity, with women spending 4.3 times the amount of time spent by men. This was followed by caring for children six-14 years (3.6 times), caring for members with a disability or permanently dependent (3.2 times), doing laundry and cleaning footwear (2.7 times), and cleaning the house or yard (2.3 times).

Activities in which women spent approximately twice the amount of time as men were in preparing and serving food, shopping for the household, caring for senior household members (60 years and older), and in general household administration such as paying bills. Men spent significantly more time (8.1 times) than women engaged in the maintenance and minor repairs of the home, although it was less than 5.0 per cent of men who were engaged in this activity. The uneven division of labour by sex was very evident.

Because of the disproportionately large amount of time that women generally spend engaged in unpaid care and domestic work, their ability to engage in paid work is limited. The findings for Jamaica showed that on average, males spent about 29.0 per cent of their time engaged in work activities (paid work and UCDW), while females spent about 31.0 per cent of their time in similar work. However, when examined by the share of paid work and UCDW in overall activities, males was approximately 21 per cent and 8.4 per cent, respectively, compared with females at approximately 13 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively. What is clear is that while the time spent in work activities is similar for men and women, the proportions of time spent in paid work and unpaid care and domestic work are significantly different.


The sex difference in the time spent engaged in UCDW is clearly quite large. The implications of this are that it is not possible for women to engage in paid work similar to that of men because the time that would be available for them to do so is taken up performing housework and other UCDW activities.

The investments in unpaid care and domestic work typically yield positive results for the family and society in general. When such contributions are valued, they turn out to be a sizeable proportion of a country’s GDP. From a recent CaPRI (2022) study, using data from the Time Use module of the 2018 JSLC, the most conservative estimate of the value of UCDW contributed by women in Jamaica was 10 per cent of GDP, or $222 billion in 2018. This compared to men’s contribution of five per cent of GDP or $114 billion, which was approximately 50 per cent of the contribution of women. Unfortunately, however, society is less able to grasp the magnitude of the total contribution of women because such a disproportionately large part of their contribution is in UCDW, which, as it now stands, is “invisible”. This, for Jamaica, is the half that has never been told!

Heather Ricketts is dean in the Faculty of Social Sciences, UWI Mona Campus. Send feedback to