Home-Work: Increase GDP by a Third?

March 5th, 2009

I wrote recently about the fact that non-remunerated work — anything that doesn’t involve a money transfer — isn’t included in GDP. So painting your mother’s house, fixing your car, or cooking dinner isn’t reflected in that key measure of our prosperity and well-being — even though that work quite clearly contributes greatly to our prosperity and well-being.

Which got me wondering: how much of that type of work do we do? And what’s it worth?

The American Time Use Survey (ATUS), conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, measures the amount of time people spend doing various activities such as paid work, childcare, volunteering, commuting, and socializing (PDF). I extracted activities that most of us would call “productive.”

2007 average hours per person (over age 15) per day
Housework    0.64
Food preparation and cleanup    0.52
Lawn and garden care    0.21
Household management    0.14
Purchasing goods and services    0.78
Caring for and helping household members    0.53
Caring for and helping nonhousehold members    0.2
Volunteering (organizational and civic activities)    0.16

Total hours per day    3.18
Total hours per year    1160.7

There are approximately 200 million Americans over age 15, meaning that we put in something like 232 billion home-work hours per year.

Value at different wage rates
At $5 an hour    $1.2 trillion
At $10 an hour    $2.3 trillion
At $15 an hour    $3.5 trillion
At $20 an hour    $4.6 trillion

This last — $20 an hour — was the median hourly wage in America for 2007 (not including benefits). Half the people make more, half the people make less.

Okay, the official GDP for 2007 was $13.8 trillion. Add $4.6 trillion and you get a total GDP of $18.5 trillion.

Home-work makes up 25% of that total GDP, or in other words increases reported GDP by 33%.

Now you have to figure that Europeans — with their shorter work weeks and long vacations — have a lot more time for home-work than we do. That may go a long way to explaining why the quality of life feels so gosh-darned good over there, even while their official GDP per capita hovers at 75-80% of the U.S.

If you truly believe in family values, those are some numbers worth pondering.

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