WHO COOKED ADAM SMITH’S DINNER? It’s the title of a new book and an interesting question about the value of housework. The New York Times offered two answers:
“The first is ‘self-motivated economic actors.’ As Adam Smith himself famously wrote, ‘It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.’ The second is his mother. Margaret Douglas was just 28 when her husband died and Adam Smith still in utero. At the age of 2, Smith inherited his father’s estate, and his mother saw that he got his dinner for the rest of her days.”
Presumably, Smith’s mother received no wages, so how much was her labor worth? How much is the unpaid work of parents and family caregivers worth? A couple studies have explored the issue.
First, let’s consider parents.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported unpaid work at home would have boosted U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) – the value of all goods and services produced in a country – by 26 percent in 2010.
The U.S. GDP was $14,660 billion in 2010. So, the answer is about $3,812 billion or $3.81 trillion. That’s slightly less than Japan’s 2015 GDP ($4,123 billion) and slightly more than Germany’s ($3,358 billion).
Let’s turn our attention to caregivers.
The AARP Public Policy Institute found about 40 million family caregivers spent 37 billion hours providing care to adult family members during 2013. The value of that care was estimated to be about $470 billion. That’s “as big as the world’s largest company and bigger than Medicaid and out-of-pocket spending on health care.”
We’ve mentioned before some experts don’t believe GDP is an accurate measure of economic well being because it doesn’t really reflect the value of all goods and services in a country. Clearly, it doesn’t account for parenting and caregiving although both are important to society’s well being.
How much do you suppose volunteering is worth?
Weekly Focus – Think About It
“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”
–Woodrow Wilson, 28th United States President