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What is the Worth of a Woman?

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Licia Ronzulli is an Italian member of the European Parliament; however, she is more often recognized as the “poster child for working mothers everywhere” (Peck). Since one month after her daughter’s birth, Ronzulli has been utilizing the flexible, family-friendly rules that allow parents to bring their children to work at the European Parliament (see photo right). To some, Mrs. Ronzulli exemplifies a bold “women can have it all” position in the “Mommy Wars”, a term that refers to the ongoing battle between “working moms” and “stay at home mothers”. She is indeed praised for her unusual balance between working and caring for her child. But why is this considered such an achievement?

Giving up a career to work in the household presumably signals familial economic instability. Unfortunately, the ability to maintain and balance the jobs as both a successful parent and a source of income is considered an unrealistic dream. Society assumes that any stay-at-home parent has either made the mistake of sacrificing their career or is somehow incompetent and only able to perform household and caretaking duties. Due to this misconstrued stigma, the familial duty is greatly dismissed, unappreciated, and undervalued by our national community; however it is obviously deemed essential to sustain a family.

Since the Great Recession, there has been a growing trend of parents exiting the workforce to become primary caretakers out of financial necessity. Although both men and women lost their jobs, the male unemployment rate was much higher than women’s unemployment. Women also regained all of their lost jobs during the recovery period, while men still have not (Blackburn). Many accredit the unusual increase in stay-at-home fathers to this unfortunate economic circumstance. Regarding stay-at-home mothers, those who are most likely to stay home full-time have husbands who are either in the lowest 25% of the male earnings distribution or in the top 5% (Linn). Why do we demand an explanation from stay-at-home parents? The answer is essentially because our economic, social, and political systems do not consider caretaking to be work nor do they value how much time and effort parents spend in the household. 

            All around the world, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is used as a measurement of a nation’s development. Most governments and multilateral agencies regard development as synonymous with economic growth, under the assumption that economic growth correlates with the standards of living and the general satisfaction of human needs. GDP is calculated by finding the sum of consumer spending, investment, government spending, and the difference between exports and imports. Many argue that this calculation only focuses on financial costs and completely omits the measurement of other kinds of costs, such as costs to the environment, costs to ourselves, and costs to society; therefore GDP does not account for all of the components that contribute to a nation’s development ("Women & Unpaid Work). Famous feminist economist, Marilyn Warring, points out that GDP is “utterly unrelated to the wellbeing of a community” and that this “uni-dimensional economic fabrication doesn’t bare any relationship to our lives!” (Who's Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics). it produces more economic growth. Warring advocates that our current system of economic measurement excludes important information that fully reflects the state of our countries, such as the levels and distribution of poverty, primary healthcare, education standards, environmental cleanliness, most importantly- unpaid household and caretaking duties performed by women across the globe.

            Under our economic system that is supposed to measure the complete well being of our society, women have been deemed invisible. Globally, females are the primary caretakers and homemakers that spend hours upon hours working; however, their time is not considered real work. Some of the primary kindling used to fuel Mommy Wars is based in the belief that women who remain at home are not working at all. All of the unpaid hours that are spent performing housework, preparing food, caring for children, completing lawn work, cleaning, paying bills, and accomplishing dozens of other daily tasks are considered non-productive and non-economic. According to our GDP, this housework does not contribute to economic or developmental growth because it is not paid for nor does it produce anything of monetary value. These women are apparently unoccupied, at leisure, and ultimately economically inactive (Who's Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics). Our economy doesn’t recognize domestic unpaid work in the same way it does for paid jobs; however, a study by the U.S. Department of Commerce created an estimate that incorporating unpaid domestic work would have raised the level of GDP by 26% in 2010 in the US (Hess). Even the failure to include unpaid care services when calculating a nation’s economic productivity contributes to the “low society value placed on both unpaid and paid care work” (Hess). This overall feminist economic argument clearly explains why the women in our global society are so greatly unappreciated.

            Why are the working efforts of women unpaid and ultimately not valued? Why are women receiving less money for performing the same efforts of men? Why are women unequal to men? What is the worth of a woman? How do we decide what to value and what is “value”? This series of thought represent some of the many questions that arise out of feminist economics. The worth of humanity cannot be calculated in dollars and cents. Our worth is so much more than what the GDP tells us. But what is the problem? Is our system is laced with institutions that discriminate against gender, race, and class, which ultimately allows this discrimination to perpetually exist and support itself? Some feminist economists, such as Marilyn Warring, believe that our system is flawed and needs to be amended. Or maybe the gender, race, and class discrimination of our society taints the effectiveness of our economic system, which is what other feminist economists, such as Heidi Hartman, support.

Works Cited:

Blackburn, Bradly. "Women Lag Behind Men in Economic Recovery." ABC News. ABC News, 21 Mar. 2011. Web. <>.

Hise, Cynthia. "Women and the Care Crisis: Valuing In-Home Care in Policy and Practice." (n.d.): n. pag. Institute for Women's Policy Research. Web. Apr. 2013. <>.

Linn, Allison. "Opt out or Left Out? The Economics of Stay-at-home Moms." NBC News. NBC News, 12 May 2013. Web. <>. 

Peck, Sally. "The Italian MEP Who's a Poster Girl for Working Mothers Everywhere."The Telegraph. The Telegraph, 20 Nov. 2013. Web. <>. 

Who's Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics. Dir. Terre Nash. Perf. Marilyn Waring. National Film Board of Canada. National Film Board of Canada, May 2013. Web. <>.

"Women & Unpaid Work." Women & The Economy. United Nations Platform for Action Committee Manitoba, 2011. Web. <>.