The Guardian is loving this ruling from China where a housewife is, upon divorce, awarded compensation for all the housework she did. There are reasons to think this may or may not be fair but let’s run with the feminist argument that it is. There should be a value put on this domestic work.
They’re not then going to like the answer – it’s not worth very much:
A Chinese divorce court has ordered a man to pay his wife the equivalent of US $7,700 as compensation for housework during their five-year marriage.
They why it’s unfair is that clearly she also gained from the fact that the housework was done, so too the childcare. Further, she presumably gained from the income he made while he was out doing market work. But leave all that aside.
The award is of 50,000 yuan for 5 years work. The average wage in China (and this is skewed because it’s a big place with highly variable wage levels) is:
In 2019, an employee in the urban regions of the Chinese Hebei province earned around 72,956 yuan per annum on average. The national average reached about 90,501 yuan in 2019.
So, one year of housework is worth 10,000 yuan, or between a seventh and a ninth of one year of market work.
Which is going to cause those feminists to spit teeth in their rage. Yes, domestic work has value – it’s just not very much.
There’s good theoretical reasoning behind this too. A commission of the Great and the Good looked at this as the Sarkozy Commission. It included two Nobel Laureates, Jow Stiglitz and Amartya Sen. Domestic labour has value but it’s “the general undifferentiated labour rate” or, as we might more normally call it, the minimum wage.
The reason being the division and specialisation of labour from our old friend Adam Smith. When we go out into the market we are – at the limit – specialising and dividing that labour between 7 billion people. This raises the productivity of that labor considerably. Unless your household is exceedingly more exciting than mine the division is going to be between two people within said household. This means that the productivity of that labour is going to be rather low.
Low productivity labour gets paid less than high such.
It is indeed true that domestic work is worth something. It’s just that the something isn’t very much.