Mothers' contribution to the economy ignored, feminist economist says

Prue Hyman agrees that rising financial pressures from the likes of the housing crisis could be forcing mothers into the ...
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Prue Hyman agrees that rising financial pressures from the likes of the housing crisis could be forcing mothers into the workforce too soon.

A female economist who analysed women's working rights 23 years ago feels depressed by the "lack of progress since [Kate] Sheppard's day".

In her new book Hopes Dashed? The Economics of Gender Inequality, Prue Hyman expresses her upset in the Government for continuing to undervalue motherhood in economic calculations and policy making. 

​In comparing her 1994 book Women and Economics: A New Zealand Feminist Perspective with her 2017 release, Hyman said that the current Government, including the Ministry for Women, "demonstrates too rosy a view of past gains and future challenges [for womens rights]". 

Hyman concluded her original book with wavering optimism as some New Zealand women were taking on large corporate and political roles. 

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Mothers' unpaid domestic work is put in the Government's 'dependents' category when calculating GDP.
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Mothers' unpaid domestic work is put in the Government's 'dependents' category when calculating GDP.

She hoped many women's desire to raise children would be considered by future employers and policy makers. 

However, as she found out, those changes have not been made. 

Motherhood is still not considered in gross domestic product (GDP) calculations as those who carry out unpaid household work fall under the category of 'dependents'.

Hyman said that this undermined mothers' economic contribution, stigmatised women in society and painted an incomplete picture of the economy. 

"It [unpaid work] contributes to the upbringing and wellbeing of the next generation of economically active people and it provides services, care and support for those who would otherwise be more dependent on public resources for their welfare," she said.

The economic worth of unpaid volunteer work in the tourism and not-for-profit sectors are calculated in informal satellite accounts. Motherhood is not.

"There seems to be a broader government inability or unwillingness to take full account of unpaid work and formulate policies to assist those who do the lion's share of it," Hyman said.​

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Statistics New Zealand figures between 1998 and 1999 show that unpaid work would have added 40 per cent to the GDP, amounting to $40 billion that year. 

Findings from the Household Labour Force Survey show that in 2016 more women are entering the workforce and less are becoming stay-at-home mothers.

Hyman said this is neither good or bad, as long as women feel they have the choice.

She agreed that rising financial pressures on New Zealand families, such as the housing crisis, could be forcing mothers into paid work too soon. 

"If you're on the minimum wage, particularly in Auckland, you can't survive," Hyman said. 

"We have far too many rewards within paid work … Bringing up the next generation is also important."

In her International Women's Day Speech in 2015, professor of public policy at Auckland's University of Technology, Marilyn Waring, compared New Zealand women's working rights to slavery.

"The fact is the entire market economy would grind to a halt if women did not do the majority of unpaid work," Waring said.

 - Stuff

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