Multiple aspects to account for in remunerating housework

Professor Euston Quah provided good reasons for the need to include the value of housework in any discussion on the economic growth of a country (The value of unpaid housework; May 29).

But before any initiative such as remunerating housework can be considered, we may want to deliberate on the issue further, from the social and environment perspectives.

As much as economists would equate household production with housework, the two are quite different.

Production implies quality and productivity, whereas routine work may mean only getting a job done. Household production would conceivably go beyond, say, just cooking a meal, and also entail planning and serving a healthy meal.

In the area of child-rearing, the variation in quality expectations is even greater. Many entrust their young children to grandparents or relatives to look after. Some outsource childcare services to preferred play schools or childcare centres for the value that they perceive their children will receive.

By equating household production with housework, we may be recognising only minimum output at the expense of potential added value. It is important to underline the importance of individual responsibility in raising household production.

It is also problematic to define housework as "day-to-day services of cooking, cleaning, shopping, child-rearing and the myriad other chores that are demanded by households". This is because the scope varies depending on lifestyles and expectations.

Then, there is a changing environment to consider. As we introduce technology - robots and remote access - in households, the nature of housework will change. Household production will have multiple dimensions that cannot be accounted for by a common formula based on a traditional definition of housework.

The case for valuing housework or household production in computing economic growth may be strong. But we need to recognise and address any hard issues early to ensure that a workable policy in this direction can be formulated.

Yeoh Teng Kwong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 03, 2018, with the headline 'Multiple aspects to account for in remunerating housework'. Print Edition | Subscribe