Post Lockdown: Moving towards a $5 Trillion Economy

Yesterday, on my twitter TL, was a man lamenting about his life. He is a senior executive in some company, has two kids, and mentioned his wife doesn’t work. I am not putting up a screenshot or linking to that thread, because there is no point in making him a target for the woke, or a poster boy for the patriarchal. That is not the purpose of this blog. The point is more about a woman’s work – and why it seems to have no value.

Right now, during the lock down, most of us, including working women who relied on the help of other women to outsource housework,  to be able to go out and work – are fending four ourselves. And, all of a sudden it is apparent how much more the value of housework is compared to the wages it earns. On most days, I am exhausted beyond measure by the end of the day – after cooking, cleaning, and doing office work. And, my respect for women who balance both housework and outside work increases manifold. It isn’t easy, nor is it rewarding – and it is not even counted as work

Most of India’s female labour force is in the informal sector. This means many things – instability, lack of growth, lack of pension, lack of a steady income, vulnerability to sexual exploitation, lack of savings, lack of pension, lack of medical cover – the list is fairly long.

A woman selling custard apples. Lonavala Market November 6, 2010

Most women in India, don’t have paid employment. Most are economically dependent on their men – be it their father, their husband, or son.

As per Census 2011, the workforce participation rate for females is 25.51% against 53.26% for males. The rural sector has a better female workforce participation rate of 30.02% compared with 53.03% for males whereas for the urban sector.


Whether a woman does paid work or not, the bulk of the housework and care work falls on her. In homes where she goes out and works, the housework is in addition to her outside work. And if she is a stay at home woman, then naturally all the housework falls on her.

In the book “The Growth Delusion”, David Pilling looks at the concept of growth, and how it is measured. And, in doing so, he looks at work done by women.

…..if cooking, cleaning, washing, driving and so on were counted, these activities would add roughly $3.8 trillion to the total size of the American economy. That would make the economy 26 percent bigger

Pilling, David. The Growth Delusion . Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

A few years ago, I had written about the vexing issue of ‘women’s work‘ and how it really seemed to have no ‘value’

However, there is an elephant in the room, and it is a rather large elephant. And that elephant is the value of a woman’s unpaid work in the house or even the family business.

Women’s Unpaid Work – Time to Redress it

If you look at the figures for india, women spend 10 times the time spent by men on what is called ‘house work’. Feeding a child, looking after an elder, cooking, cleaning, and more. As Pilling points out in his book,

Advocates of counting household chores and volunteer work say these activities are routinely ignored because they are performed mainly by women. That’s why they are undervalued. Or, more precisely, not valued at all. One author lists some of the activities that are not part of the economy as ‘giving birth to babies, raising children, cultivating a garden, cooking food for her siblings, milking the family cow, making clothes for her relatives or taking care of Adam Smith so he can write The Wealth of Nations’.

Pilling, David. The Growth Delusion . Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

if we started assigning value to what is called ‘woman’s work’ and began accounting for it in all growth estimates, and began paying for her work then the whole equation will change. Maybe more women will not enter the informal sector to be exploited. Maybe they will feel the sense of economic security that has been so denied to them.

The argument against paying for women’s work is that it is part of the ‘social contract’ that you agree on when you get married and set up a home. While this argument has merit in an era when the husband and wife worked the same profession and both earned very little, the world has changed beyond measure. Also, I am not advocating an income transfer from the husband (usually the family member who earns a wage for going out and working) to the wife. That really would make no sense, and do nothing for the GDP.

I am suggesting a Government transfer – a Woman’s wage – to be paid to every adult woman in the country – irrespective of social class – for the work she does. Countries like the UK have a child benefit for each family irrespective of the economic class of the family. A direct transfer – consider it a universal basic income for women – will do many things for the woman and the household. A Rs.5000 transfer to every woman will do wonders for the household income, the local economy, and by definition the national economy.

As we come out of a lockdown, and stare a contraction of the economy in the face, the Government needs to take bold measures to try and kick start the economy. One way is of course a stimulus package to industries and MSME to get them working; but the bigger challenge will be stimulating demand – and that is going to be difficult because people have little or no money. A woman’s wage will go a long way in redressing that.

Rs.5000 per month transferred to every adult woman, is the magic mantra needed to boost demand, raise household income, and move the GDP closer to the $5 trillion mark.

I know some one will shout deficit — would suggest to them to go and read the economic history of Europe after the second world war, or the US’s new Deal — if we want to grow it is not going to be the invisible hand of economics that is going to take us there. But, very visible, and systematic government planning.

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