economics: gdp


Gross Domestic Product


Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is what’s known as an economic indicator, and it’s one of the primary methods used to measure a country’s wealth.

Gross domestic product is a term commonly used by economists to describe the size of a nation’s economy. Simply stated, it is the total value of all spending annually in a country—by individuals, businesses and governments. That is, it is a measure of all production and services within the borders of a nation every year. Because of this, it is commonly used by economists as a yardstick for a range of economic indicators. For example, it has been estimated that about $1 of every $10 spent in the US annually is related to motor vehicles—sales, repairs, parts and the like. So this industry makes up 1/10, or around 10%, of the US GDP.1

What GDP does not measure is unpaid labor and services, barter, or anything else that doesn’t involve actual cash money. As a result, GDP is more a measure of men’s contributions to the economy, while the majority women’s participation is left out.

The reason is that a huge proportion of the work and services that women provide is unpaid labor. Even though women account for less than half of the labor force worldwide (compared to nearly 80% for men), they work more hours than men because so much of their work is unpaid; for example, childcare, eldercare, health care, education, food production, volunteer work, etc.2

What’s more, of all the unpaid labor performed around the world, more than two-thirds of it is done by women. In fact, in 1995, the United Nations calculated that the monetary value of the unpaid labor carried out by women globally was $11 trillion—or nearly half of the world’s gross domestic product.3

Despite the fact that this unpaid labor provides crucial work and services for the entire world and impacts economies everywhere, because it is unpaid, none of it is included in the official measurement of economies, and more than 65% of it is carried out by women.

So for example, in Tanzania, where females carry out most of the unpaid household, food production, and childcare labor, women put in a total of 8 billion hours a year of unpaid work. If the same labor was translated into paid work, it would mean 4.6 million full-time jobs, which would be included in (and dramatically increase) Tanzania’s GDP.4

Or, as the UN states, “Although women spend about 70 percent of their unpaid time caring for family members, that contribution to the global economy remains invisible.”5

So when the United Nations calculated that “more than two-thirds of the world’s unpaid work is done by women—the equivalent of $11 trillion or almost 50% of world GDP,” what they discovered was that nearly half of what is considered “economic activity” wasn’t actually being included in any economic reports—to the tune of $11 trillion dollars a year.6


Related pages:
The Role of Gender in Upholding Capitalism
“What If All the Secretaries Went On Strike?”