Pink Talks

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Reproductive Labor

Reproductive labour refers to the unpaid work associated with the maintenance and reproduction of human life on a biological, generational and social level. This includes activities required to maintain daily life, physical and mental health, cleaning, preparing meals, personal hygiene and caring for children, adolescents and the elderly.

While reproductive work is necessary and valuable, the gendered division of labour maintains the subordination of women, with women’s responsibility for unpaid domestic work putting them at a disadvantage in the labour market as they have to work a “second unpaid shift” at home. The term was coined in the 1970s with the aim of recognising women’s unpaid work in the home and its economic impact and contributions.

Socialist feminists recognised that housewives have a direct impact on the market through the products they buy. The original concept of reproductive labour as referring to unpaid domestic work in the private sector as opposed to paid work in the public sector has changed.

Overall, the proportion of gender diversity in the labour force has steadily increased and with it the recognition of paid work in the area of reproductive work, e.g. in the service sector.

(Author: Faith Mutugi)

See more resources

Duffy, M. (2007). Doing the Dirty Work: Gender, Race, and Reproductive Labor in Historical Perspective. Gender & Society, 21(3), 313-336.

Gender and Social Reproduction: Historical Perspectives Barbara Laslett Johanna Brenner Annual Review of Sociology 1989 15:1, 381-404

Secombe, Wally. 1974. The housewife and her labour under capitalism. New Left Review 83:3-24

Boydston, Jeanne, 2009. “Home and Work: Housework, Wages, and the Ideology of Labor in the Early Republic,” OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195085617.

Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 1989. The second shift. New York: Avon Books.