Statistics and Data Collection

Recognizing that there has been a history of not noticing unpaid care roles, taking them for granted as service but not entering them into economic tallies, many governments in more recent decades have tried to correct the omission.

The purpose of noticing what was not noticed, to make more ‘visible’ in the tallies what was invisible, is ultimately to ensure that those who perform those roles are recognized, that the role is included in national tallies as a vital part of the economy and that economic forecasts can be more accurate. The goal is that people can have full enjoyment of their rights, dignity, liberty, freedom, equality, as they do their paid and unpaid roles.

The first stage of addressing a problem of omission therefore has been to collect data that had not been collected earlier. This data would help determine how much unpaid work is done in a nation., how much volunteer work, how much time it takes to do it, how much money government saves by not having to pay to have essential services done, and if there has been a gender bias linked to the role.

A The need for information

            1. Definition of the problem

            2. Nature of data collection

            3. Types of data to collect

             -census data

            – gender based analysis

             -time use data

B. Timeline of data collection about caregiving

C. Important considerations for such studies

            1.general considerations

            2. considerations for  gender based analysis

            3. considerations for time use surveys

D. Interpretation of Data

E. Action



1. Definition of problem

Governments have collected data for centuries, in census and other surveys.  The claim is that they have not noticed unpaid work, only paid work.  Historically government collected census data of property owned and land holdings for tax purposes and to have  a record of eligible citizens to serve in the military. Since women were rarely property owners and were not called up for military service, they were less likely to be ‘counted’ in official tallies.

Excluding women meant that all tallies used for ‘citizens’ then automatically ignored women – for asking for input into government policy, for voting, for banking privileges, for inheritance.

In economic theory, Adam Smith in the “Wealth of Nations”  in 1776 had also made a distinction between productive and unproductive labor. He said that “the labour of a manufacturer adds, generally, to the value of the materials which he works upon, that of his own maintenance, and of his master’s profit. The labour of a menial servant, on the contrary, adds to the value of nothing. ” Therefore when the caregiver role was noticed, it had also been viewed as not useful to the economy.

Many nations adopted those principles and looked at work only in terms of production of products for profit.  National accounts were created to tally  all  work that leads to a money income and ignored unpaid voluntary labor and unpaid household labor.

Karl Marx in 1867 also had said that a worker is only productive if they can product more than is required for their own subsistence   He did not consider activities that just maintained social order such as the police or legal system, banking, accounting, safety as productive. This also led to exclusion of domestic roles in the tally of useful work.

Others disagreed with Marx and urged consideration of other activities as productive in society too – such as labor that is socially useful, ecologically responsible, that leads to human development  or human satisfaction. However those tallies were harder to make because there is no easy way to measure the value of clean air or a healthy child or money you did not have to spend because you prevented a flood.

As it became more evident that national accounts were inaccurate, a movement began to start to notice the other roles not earlier seen as productive – the unpaid care  roles and how they had anchored the economy.  Attention was given to the need to collect information about unpaid work and make it the UN Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi in 1985 ad  the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.  The document aimed to

-Collect gender and age-disaggregated data on poverty and all aspects of economic activity and develop qualitative and quantitative statistical indicators to facilitate the assessment of economic performance from a gender perspective;

– Devise suitable statistical means to recognize and make visible the full extent of the work of women and all their contributions to the national economy, including their contribution in the unremunerated and domestic sectors,

-Examine the relationship of women’s unremunerated work to the incidence of and their vulnerability to poverty. B

-Measure  the distribution of unremunerated work, particularly work in caring for dependants and unremunerated work done for family farms or businesses, and encourage the sharing and dissemination of information on studies and experience in this field

The goal of such studies is not however just to collect data but to also then see patterns of discrimination where they exist and to urge legal changes to correct those injustices.

2. The nature of data collection

Governments have been collecting information for centuries for tax purposes. They collect data on the population so they can provide needed services. The number of children forecasts need for schools, the number of elderly forecasts need for pensions, the paid employment location suggests need for roads, and the housing situation has implications for need for fire fighting, utilities, policing.  The demographics suggests need for communication networks, postal service and defense.  Paid employment status has implications for the type of social assistance and welfare payments that will be needed.

Government has therefore an identified right to ask questions.  Most census tallies are compulsory as is filling out a tax form. However the issue then becomes what questions are asked, what the government is not noticing that should be asked and what it has no right to ask- concerns about privacy.

The care sector has often been ignored possibly because the family has been seen as a private domain, and government felt no  need to know or right to know.  However since government also must adjust the fairness of its taxes based on ability to pay, the fact a person had a family that he was financially supporting did become relevant to fair taxation The fact of illness did become relevant to expectation to do paid work.  Different levels of government had their own municipal census to generate their own taxes and they often wanted to know a householder’s property description to tax is fairly and to know their religion, to determine if the tax should go to the public or separate school system. So questions about if someone rented or owned a property, their religion and their marital status also appeared on census forms.

Over time questions were asked in increasing detail – about number and age of children, source of income, profession. Tax form questions asked about money and asked about business expenses and personal medical expenses in order to ensure that taxation was fair.. However the information collected eventually was significant and another movement surfaced – to protect the data, so that it was not widely known to the general public, ensuring the fundamental right to privacy.  A movement grew to ensure that some questions were not asked at all, that to ask them meant a factor was considered that could be used against the person.

If an employer asked gender or age or race, they may deny an applicant just due to bias against on those factors. If housing or club membership was denied based on those factors, it seemed a violation of rights and therefore a movement developed to not have those questions even asked.  The public became protective of its privacy, in order to ensure that it could enjoy  the basic rights and freedoms of the law.

This however made it a little harder to collect data about discrimination.

3. Types of data to collect

The purpose of collecting data about unpaid labor was identified as a way to correct a historic omission and to reverse a tend to discriminate. The purpose was to correct a systemic and society wide pattern so it was not personal invasion of privacy.  The intent was to uncover patterns, to find evidence if any of where there was inequality and then to urge governments to create fairer policy. So many advocates urged collection of the data, sometimes sensitive and personal, but with a goal to then anonymize it, to ensure privacy of the individual and to uncover only general aggregate patterns.  Some respondents however may not have known this or believed it and so it was sometimes difficult to collect data.

Three approaches to data collection were considered useful. One was the census, to look at questions already routinely asked. One was gender based analysis to see patterns already there between those who did unpaid labor and those who did not, and differences in their income, poverty, and social status.

Gender based studies looked at

            -numbers of males and females overall and at various ages – revealing

            in recent studies how men in 1911 outnumbered women in

            Canada but in 2011 women now outnumber men.

            -life expectancy of men and women

            -number of men and women in paid labor

            -income comparing men and women in general , at various ages, and in various             professions, and in their senior years

            -time and income for maternity compared to paternity benefits

However past census studies tended to ignore unpaid work.  The imbalances that census studies revealed seemed to only suggest that women were not at paid work as much as men, and further to imply that women were lazier and less active in the economy.   Income inequality that was revealed could be interpreted as gender discrimination at paid work, and imply a need for equal pay legislation ,that many nations then did create. However the lower income of women was rarely addressed in census studies as due to the fact that women more often than men were doing something else, some other type of work besides paid work.

What also was easy to misconstrue was what equality goals would be. Viewed only through the paid labor lens and equality at the paid job, may create equal benefit for maternity and paternity leave. However the desire of parents or their physical involvement in birth giving or breast feeding may make equal time for men and wmoe at such leave, not logical.  Aiming at equality between the genders for benefits for parenting may address inequalities between those at paid labor , male or female. However by ignoring inequalities between women at home who have a baby and women in paid work who have a baby, the inequality was not addressed by fixing maternity benefits for paid workers.

A third approach was to study unpaid roles themselves and ‘uncover’ unpack, reveal their nature. Useful computations could be made of

            -what roles were done for free in the service of others- housework, care of

            the young, sick, handicapped, frail elderly, dying, and volunteer work

            -how much time it took to do that work

            -how much money it cost in direct outlay to do that work

            -how much government depended on someone to do that

            work in the economy – and how much it saved by getting

            the work done free

            -how much it cost the unpaid worker in loss of salary elsewhere,

            in ‘opportunity cost’, loss of some benefits and pensions that

            are tied only to paid work

The easiest of these to tally seemed to be how much time it took to do unpaid work. Time use surveys asked people, often in voluntary questionnaires of census studies that were compulsory for a snapshot study of how they had recently spent their day, in what activities paid and unpaid.

A decision was made in many countries to take a snapshot look at how people spent their time, and how much was devoted to unpaid roles.

This type of survey was new territory.  Surveys about paid work had had many categories and even those in the home were often queried not for what they were doing there but for what they were not doing for paid work.  Surveys had asked of those in the home if they were looking for work, studying in order to qualify for work, and how long they had been out of work.  These questions had already implied that the person in the home was not doing any work there.

To survey unpaid roles, it was noticed that many activities could be itemized.

-Meal preparation: meal, lunch or snack preparation, preserving foods, (baking, freezing, sealing, packing foods,

-Household chores and interior maintenance -indoor house cleaning, dish washing, tidying, laundry, ironing, folding, sewing, shoe care, dusting, vacuuming, mending

-Household chores and exterior maintenance: taking out garbage, recycling,

composting, unpacking goods, repair, painting, renovation, car repair,

ground maintenance, snow removal, cutting grass

– Shopping, running errands, transporting others to school and appointments and clubs

-Banking, financial planning and accounting

-Care for a child under age 15 years,  providing personal care, getting

ready for school, supervising homework, reading, playing, reprimanding, educational, emotional help, accompanying to or from school, bus stop, sports activities, parent-school meetings or appointments, medical care of children is included

-Care for a teenager 15-17 years old, helping with homework

educational, personal care, providing emotional support, paying for and transporting to sports activities, parent-school meetings or appointments

-Care of a handicapped family member, someone sick, someone frail and elderly or dying

Shopping for goods or services, gasoline, groceries,

-Care of a frail elderly person

-Care of neighbors, friends, supportive contacting and nurturing

-Care of someone who is dying

-Personal care, bathing, sleeping, leisure, recreation, eating, exercising

-Volunteer roles in the community – reading to the blind, driving cancer patients to appointments, flooding community skating, rink, coaching sports teams, making lunches for homeless shelters, church volunteer work hosting garage sales, serving meals at funerals

The challenges of such data collection were huge because of the volume of information that would be asked.  The relevance of the questions was studied since a key problem would be how much of these efforts was personal care, and how much was for care of others. Often the tasks such as cooking or shopping were both for self and others.


3800BC – Babylonian empire first known census – counts livestock, quantities of honey, milk, butter, wool  and vegetables

3000 BC Egypt, – Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom conduct census – source of             income

2000 BC – Early biblical history- census for income, residence, tribe and origin

1000 BC – Ancient Greece- some censuses

600 BC – Roman empire census – counts arms-bearing citizens

330 BC- India- first recorded census

2AD – China  Han Dynasty – oldest surviving census data

6AD- Rome census for tax purposes

1086- Britain – Domesday Book – landowners in England surveyed re land and holdings             for tax purposes

1328- France – first national census for tax purposes

1400s  – Inca empire census

1577- Spain does census of its holdings in the Indies-

1666- Canada- first census in New France asksage, gender, marital status – for taxes

                        and military service

1700s – European nations conduct intense surveys of oversas colonies to collect tax

1765 – Canada – questions in census now asked about religion

1790- US -census asks age, gender, race Enumerators travel on horseback Enslaved             people are counted as three-fifths of a person . Native Americans are not counted

1860- US -native Americans are counted for first time in census

1853- Chile  – first census in South America

1860 – US census data is used to prove prevalence of slavery in anti-slavery movement

1871- Canada – national census under BNA Act asks about housing, armaments, ancestry,              marital status and ‘infirmities”

1874 – India -Census done by British officials lists occupations of locals with problems of             cultural bias using  terms such as ‘prayer mutterers’

1881 –  Canada – census takers must take oath of secrecy

1920 – US census showing national origin of residents is used to later limit immigration

1921 – Canada – a question is asked if the person is blind, deaf, ‘simple minded’

1931 –  Canada asks about unemployment status

1940 – US  begins a Current Population survey

1940s – Canada asks questions about fertility, housing type, value of home

1958 – UN issues first set of recommendations for how to conduct population and             housing censuses

1961 – Canada asks level of education

1966 – US National Longitudinal Survey -asks education, employment, family status,             health attitudes, substance abuse

1971 – Canada starts a universal short from census and a longer form for every tenth             household.

1971- Canada- for the first time the census is self administered not done by interviewers

1973- American Housing Survey begins

1976- Canada – the expression ‘head of household’ is changed to husband /wife

1980 The UN calculates that women do 2/3 of the world’s work for 5-10% of the income             and 1% of the assets.  The UN Second Conference for Women in             Copenhagen             proposes that women’s work in the home and on the farm be             included in the             GNP. and that the  definition of worker be broadened to include women who      do such work. These changes are however not approved

1981 -Canada – the term ‘head of household’ is dropped entirely

1983 -West Germany- government faces lawsuit over privacy concerns when census records are too closely applied to municipal population registry

1984 – Democratic Republic of Congo takes its first census

1991 – Canada census for first time asks about common law unions

1993- Canadian homemaker Carol Lees objects to a national census that requires that she             as a farm wife and homemaker identify herself as ‘never worked’. She lodges an             official complaint that her unpaid work is ignored

1994- American Community Survey begins – It  asks about ancestry, education, income,             language, disability, housing ,employment

1996 – Canada’s long form census asks questions about unpaid labor

2001 – Canada – census asks about same sex common law unions, birthplace of parents,             language at work

2001- UK- A joke  Internet campaign promotes listing census religion as Jedi faith from     Star Wars and 390,000 people do so

2006- Canada  – government does not give public access to census data in detail only             after 92 years  Census for first time asks about same sex couple status.

2010- China records largest population in the world,  by census tallies

2010-  Canada – the long form census is objected to by some as an invasion of privacy.              Consideration is made to cancelling it and Stats Canada head resigns in protest.

2010- though committed to doing so, many EU nations admit they have not yet done a             time use survey, citing lack of human and financial resources

2010  Canada – the long form census is removed. Government sets up a National             Household Survey, which unlike the census, is not mandatory, and the new survey             removes questions about unpaid work.

2013- US begins its Survey of Household Economics and Decision Making

2013- the Canadian Infant Longitudinal Development Study (CHILD) studies 5000             children over time, some of whom were enrolled before birth. It looks at effects of             environment on pregnancy and on health of the children.

2013 Canada The Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) assesses children’s biology,             development and makes policy recommendations to government. Some of the             data collected is observations from officials about parents and children.

2013 – Canada Leger Marketing surveys mothers and finds that many sacrifice time             taking care of themselves to prioritize care of others. 60% say they don’t have     enough time to take care of themselves. 50% said they spend most of their days             off paid work taking their children to activities. 27% had put off visiting a doctor             for themselves

2014- In Canada Liberal MP Ted Hsu proposes a return of the long form census that             surveyed unpaid labor. 

2015 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics divides time use into categories that included the        paid work role, the educational role of doing homework and research, and the             personal care, sleeping, eating drinking activities, social activities like watching             TV, taking part in recreation, exercise, sports. It looks at use of unpaid time             including housework, food preparation and cleanup, lawn and garden care,             household management, organizational, civic and religious activities including             volunteering, purchasing consumer goods and professional services, caring for        and helping household members including children, caring for and helping non-            household members including adults.

2015- Canada -ThinkHQ Public Affairs surveys Albertans about unpaid caregiving of the        elderly and found that 69% of such caregivers  help with shopping and             errands. 60%  provide companionship or supervision.14% give personal             assistance and help with dressing, bathing and toileting.  44% help with laundry,             household chores and cleaning.  39% help with doctor visits and medical             management

2016 OECD tallies that total unpaid work per day for a couple is about 6 hours. In the             Middle East and North Africa women do about 5. 5 hours of that; in eastern             Europe and Central Asia women do about 5 hours of that. In Europe women do        about 4 hours of that and in North American women do about 3.8 hours of that. In             all cases women do more than men but men are starting to help out more in North             America

2016 -The International Conference of Labour Statisticians in 2013 passed a motion to             collect data on all types of work, not just paid work.  The UN Statistical             Commission has agreed in 2013 to use 52 quantitative and 11 qualitative             indicators to help guide the compilation of such statistics and their relation to             gender. 

2017 Canada – Statistics Canada released a study of changes in parental participation in             ‘domestics tasks and care’ of children 1986-2015.



 1. General Considerations – nature of studies and surveys

 voluntary versus compulsory

A study is most useful if it is accurate and requiring people to answer gets a snapshot of everyone asked. When  response rates to  voluntary surveys are low, there is risk that other factors may bias the data.  Those who have a grievance and take part may tilt the balance if those without a grievance do not bother to respond.

self -administered versus asked by census taker, enumerator , researcher

The self-administered survey done online or by mail in is easier to administer, less time consuming or costly for those who design the survey. However there is risk that respondents then may not understand the question fully or may make technical mistakes responding with illegible writing, typographical or spelling errors.


All surveys risk the respondent not quite telling the truth,  either on purpose or through an honest desire to present themselves in a favorable light. When the respondent suspects the purpose of a survey is to give certain answers not others, where the ‘correct’ answer seems evident, there is risk that some respondents will over-represent what they do, such as spending time doing domestic roles of taking care of children.  These risks are often mitigated by sheer volume of respondents so that those who misrepresent are so few as to not be a significant number to bias data.

who gets the information and what will be done with it

When personal questions are asked, respondents are concerned about who will have this information and how it will be used.  The fact the information is anonymized and that personal data is not published may not only have to be a reality, but may also have to be explained to reassure respondents.

the ultimate goal

The public varies in how much they expect of government to provide a social safety net. Some may want government to help fund costs of care of children, the elderly and the handicapped while others, who have no such costs or who have no problem meeting them, may not want government to provide such help.  Some people want taxes low and small government, with individual citizens obliged to provide care of their own family. Others want bigger government with higher tax but then able to ensure that those who need help with caregiving expenses are able to provide the care.  When people answer questions of a personal nature about household and care activities, they may variously resent or appreciate the state caring about those roles.

.terms used

The terms used in questions can potentially bias the sample, either intentionally or accidentally. In the case of unpaid labor, some terms like ‘work’, ‘childcare’. housekeeping’ may be understood differently by respondents.  Some may feel all questions about work are about paid work. Some may assume all questions about childcare are about daycare while other may assume they are about taking care of children.  Some may think of household labor as cooking and cleaning while others may assume it includes yard work, car maintenance or doing the household budgets.


Modern technology permits much surveillance and study of personal behavior sometimes without the person being aware of it, sometimes with such awareness and consent. 
-GPS technology already can track movement of celphone and computer users

-cel phone technology can track numbers called, duration of call

-wire tapping and even distant  no contact technology can listen in on private conversations in homes and offices

-businesses can track through credit card purchasers, not only banking information but what items that customer usually purchases

-SCTVs can photograph people and activities in public places in live stream around the world

-Internet technology can track searches, what websites were visited, what online purchasers were made, what key  strokes were used, what words were used, what social media postings were made, and what videos were watched. It has the ability to group users of the technology into demographics about political or religious or social beliefs.

-Traffic cameras can track vehicle and pedestrian movement and even who was in a vehicle with photographs to show if they were wearing seatbelts or talking on a phone

-body cameras can photograph all people the wearer contacts

-security cameras in public buildings can photograph all people in the area

-security cameras in private homes can photograph people on the porch or movement inside a home

-technology to listen in on conversations to respond to voice commands when driving or in the home can not only adjust lighting or find out information but also is programmed to respond to conversations

When people are asked about their daily activity this is not the first ever time they are being scrutinized. The issue then becomes if they are aware of the scrutiny which in the case of surveys and census they are, and also if they consent to it.  A voluntary survey seems to ensure that there is consent, not violating privacy rights. However a voluntary survey poses the  other risk of not being as valid.

public reliance on government having data

Though some may fear invasion of privacy, most people also assume and depend on government to in case of crisis have information that may help them.  In natural disasters, knowing who is missing and who to search for is vital and may save lives. In medical crises like covid, those awaiting vaccines want to have an apprrpirate place in the line up based on their age and medical need.  When government gives benefits to help with costs of care of children,, the public often wants the benefit to come automatically without them having to apply, so the public wants government to have information about the presence of children.  The public wants authorities to know who to contact in case of distress of a relative, in medical emergency or death and administering wills. Those who fill out forms about household activities may feel conflicted because they want government to have data that will enhance wellbeing but not data that will interfere with freedoms.

risk of identity theft and misuse of data

The public is often reluctant to give information that may put their banking and personal identification at risk.  Governments usually ensure protection of data through encryption of files, through privacy oaths of civil servants and through tight regulations about storage of data.   However the public may be unsure about those strategies and may need them explained.

risk of sampling error

In sampling, if not all people are asked, there are risks that the sample is not representative of the whole population – risk of sampling error

–if the only ones asked about children’s care are mothers, fathers are unfairly excluded

-if the only ones asked about children’s care are the wealthy, the concerns of the poor are unfairly excluded

-if the only ones asked are those who speak the dominant language, the concerns of language minorities are unfairly excluded

-if the only ones asked are those who own or have access to computers, all those who do not have such access are unfairly excluded

In sampling about caregiving, there is potential for sampling error also

-if the only ones asked are adults, then children who are doing elder care are unfairly excluded

-if the only ones asked are parents, then grandparents and other family members who provide care are unfairly excluded

-if the only ones asked are users of daycare, then parents who use care by nannies, sitters, parents or friends are unfairly excluded

-if the only ones asked have a financial interest in the question, such as operators of daycares, then those who do not earn money from caregiving are unfairly excluded

In terms of caregiving surveys, samples and consultations have often been biased. There is greater visibility to government of paid advocacy groups, unions of daycare employees and management of large daycare operations.  Often government in asking about’ childcare’ has only sought out views of those who use or operate 3rd party care, therreby excluding all other care styles from consideration. When govenments then fund only 3rd party care, this may be based on lack of consultation.

2. considerations for gender based studies

Looking at the gender of respondents and the links if any to benefits in society is a common research approach.  However there may be problems with such data collection.

whether unequal means unfair

Since women not men get pregnant and give birth, a goal of equal benefits for maternity and paternity is not logical

Similarly if pay is based on paid job experience and workers with less experience are paid less, and women have less paid job experience than men at a job , then equality of pay to ignore the experience different may be illogical. To provide equal benefit under the law should not require favoritism of either gender.

when equality is the goal the focus may be larger than paid work

Even if there is income inequality at paid work and that is addressed with pay equity laws, the other inequality of unpaid work is also one governments are now addressing. A woman may earn less than a man at paid work but be entitled logically to more than a man at the domestic role. Her equality would be to ensure the two roles were both counted. The bias is not addressed just by fixing the paid labor inequality.

when the bias is analogous to gender but not strictly gender

It has become evident by some studies that the bias against the care role became so ingrained that it existed, even if done by a man. Its link to women’s work and women as of less value for their work, made it so that fathers at home, male nurses, male daycare workers endured the same stigma women had. Technically their equality of stigma may seem like equality but the bias is deeper- it is biased linked to gender of a role.

when the bias is analogous to gender but about the lower status of the care receiver

When historically the one who provided care was a woman, the role of care of the vulnerable may also have become linked to a more profound discrimination, against the nonearner in society. The young child, the handicapped, the ill, the frail elderly in the economy were seen as takers not givers to the economic system and those who provided care of them were also demeaned as not really enhancing production.  So the caregiver role itself got linked to less useful contribution to society. In that regard bias could be traced not through the caregiver’s status but through the status of the care receiver. Studies of the salary for those who work with the handicapped show lower pay than salaries of those who work with the healthy. Child psychiatrists are often paid less than psychiatrists who work with adults, family lawyers less than business lawyers, pediatric surgeons less than surgeons for adults, elementary school teachers less than secondary school teachers.  This bias could be seen as unfair and as linked to gender, analogous to a long standing bias against any roles women had that worked with those in need of care.

3. Considerations for Time use surveys

term use

There is huge potential for accidental or intentional misuse of terms in the question.

childcare advocacy groups may prefer that  question be asked generally about endorsing money spent on  ‘childcare’ .The public may assume the question is about funds for children in contrast to funds for defense or postal service. If the questionnaire will actually use the ‘yes’ answer about funding as if it endorses only 3red party daycare, that would be an unfair interpretation of the data, based on lack of clarify of the question.

When a question asks ‘do you work’ or about time spent at work or looking for work or studying for work – and the questionner assumes this is all about paid work, the respondent may be confused. A survey that notices unpaid roles as useful and as expenditures of effort, therefore work, may be unsure how to respond when they feel that they already are doing work, are not looking for more or other work and that their care roles qualify them as doing work.

The expressions  ‘working mother’ and ‘working couple’ risk the same misunderstanding and are themselves elements of the discrimination  that does not recognize unpaid roles.

Terms for the care roles, that are unclear may make the results of the survey less reliable – such as the intended meaning of housework, and if it means cleaning and cooking or also yard care or car maintenance.

necessary versus optional ways to spend time

Providing food, clothing, shelter and safety are essential to the survival of the child or other care receiver. They are not optional services but required by law to be provided by a responsible party.   There are however optional other activities such as how much to encourage crawling, walking, how intensely to stimulate talking, how much to enable play and learning to read, how many outings to take a child on and what experiences to expose them to.  These are voluntary parts of the unpaid role but may greatly enhance the quality of care and the emotional and intellectual well-being of the child.  It is harder however to tally some aspects of this care such as the time spent listening to a child, time spent answering questions, time spent cuddling and reassuring.

personal versus other centred uses of time

In time use a person is answering and that person also has personal care needs, has to eat, have shelter, bathe, dress. Time spent making a meal has a benefit to the care receiver but if the cook also eats the meal, is also time for the caregiver.  This crossover of the persona and the other centred is not easy to differentiate however.   Time spent shopping for groceries, time gardening, time cleaning the house has both a benefit to the group but also a small benefit to the individual. Since self-care is an obligation of being alive here is debate about whether it itself is of value to society, though the case could be made that it is.  The easier case to make is for other-centred care, selfless activity, that prioritizes someone else not the caregiver.  People may however differ widely in deciding how to report time spent on such blended activities.  Time spent on family vacation gives leisure to the paid workers but often is a time of continued unpaid work even more work with larger family dinners prepared, for the caregiver. The concept of vacation and time’ off’ then creates a dilemma for respondents of how to report activity.

multi tasking and the dilemma of how to tally it

Asking for minutes spent at various activities asks for a compartmentalization of tasks that is not always consistent with reality.  A person who is listening to a child read while they are making dinner is doing both cooking and childcare roles. A person shopping for diapers or making a medical appointment for a child, even when the child is not there with them, is doing childcare activities.  A person watching TV with a child is both having personal leisure and engaging in childcare.  The multitasking nature of the experience may make it confusing for people to accurately reports activities when the question asks only for activities in separate categories.

Interpretations of inequality

In a survey of time use if it is found that women do more cooking than men, this inequality may seem the obstacle to address, where the solution would be for men to do more cooking.  However a broader study would look at other ways men are contributing through unpaid labor also, such as shovelling snow, minor home repair, flooding back yard rinks, running errands to help in the community, coaching sports.. If the goal is to make visible and tally all the roles done that are unpaid, it is reasonable to also ask about traditionally unpaid roles men do.  If there are fewer of them, that also would be useful to note but it is reasonable to also tally them.

Tone of the questions

Often in the 1980s women’s rights literature referred to caregiving but as if it were a burden, a hurdle to overcome in order to free women for paid work. The tone of questions to not give dignity to the care role but to consider it something to escape or endure, can be subtle but itself insults the role and deprives those doing it of dignity. If questions use expressions suggesting burden such a tone may prejudice the results to demoralize respondents or to suggest desired answers that the researcher wants.

            eg. ‘have to take care of the kids”

            ‘unable to work’ because of taking care of the kids

            ‘the burden of childcare

            “stuck at home’

            eg. doing your share of taking care of the kids

            putting in your half

            lightening the load

A time use survey may reveal how intense the care role is, how time consuming and by implication also physically and emotionally exhausting sometimes.  However in any other profession when a person puts in long hours and is tired, they are usually thanked and praised. A hard working doctor, lawyer,  accountant, construction worker is not told to find a new job if they are tired. They are not told to find another job if they are underpaid. They are not told to get someone else to do it if they are exhausted.  Society for other professions helps people who work hard feel good about what they do.  It helps them do it more easily, with better working conditions, with social status and gratitude and with adequate financial compensation.

Unpaid care roles are unique in that when a person is very busy at the role and finds it exhausting, government gives none of that positive feedback.. A survey that creates the impression that the care role is onerous, boring, or mindless, that it is a heavy weight that is like an albatross to get rid of or  low status garbage detail that just needs to be endured does not fairly recognize the importance to the care receiver of loving attention, the value to society of someone providing such selfless care for another. 

So questions must be framed to themselves show respect for the role.

time use and the concept of free time, unassigned, leisure

In many professions pay is by the hour, and workers punch a time clock. In many other professions the pay is weekly or monthly and the paid work day is more flexible, with expected hours of doing the tasks needed by with flexibility of hours. Some offices require actual’ face time ‘appearance at the office but with work at home options and during the pandemic, many people were not assigned hours as much as tasks and they had more flexibility of hours. However there is a time when the paid work day is over and there is time for the other parts of life.

The care role is often unique in that it does not have a time off period really. Even at night as the person sleeps, they are ‘on call’ should the baby need a feeding or the toddler have a nightmare, the teen need to be listened to after getting home at midnight and wanting to chat.  The always available nature of the care role, is not cpatured easily in time use studies but is a key feature of the traditional unpaid care role.   Firefighters as a profession are often paid even when not fighting a fire, in order to be on call, as are workers who sit at the dial of a nuclear reactor just to make sure it is working well .  The role of watching, of supervising and monitoring may look like inactivity but is often vital activity. That aspect of the care role, when parents watch kids playing and just make sure they are safe, when they watch an elderly person and give them the dignity of not interfering but are there to help should they need it as they try to get out of  car or carry a heavy load – those are also vital roles even if they seem inactive.


In the past there have been challenges in deciding what are accurate observations from data.  These concerns could be identified:

1. practice does not mean preference

The number of potholes in the street does not mean people like potholes so we should build more of them. 

When the number of women with paid work is cited, that does not indicate how many women want to be at paid work, only the numbers who are there.   

When the number of children in 3rd party daycare is cited, that does not mean the number who prefer that care style, if it is the only care style that gets preferred government funding.

We only know preference if we ask what people prefer.

We  can only equate practice and current data with what people want, if all the options are all equally treated by government and equally funded.   Since in most nations that is not the case, and governments fund preferentially non family based care, it is not logical to call such numbers ‘demand’ or ‘need’ for daycare.

2. overgeneralizing categories

The number of mothers who have paid work enters them into a tax category often called ‘working mothers’. Those without any paid income may be designated “mothers at home’ or mothers not in the (paid)labor force. However to consider those as two separate groups risks missing some important life choices people are making.

The number of mothers with paid work is not the same as the number of women who are this week at the paid job.  Because government taxes are based on annual income, the designation of ‘working mother’ is used for women while on vacation, if sick and at home or if on maternity leave. The use of the term as equivalent to women who need 3rd party daycare is not accurate since they may earn but be currently at home with the child.

A woman who is home with the child full time and has a small income from a hobby there, writing or making jewellery may consider herself a mother at home but even the small earning may put her in the category of ‘working mother’ that daycare lobbyists could overgeneralize to claim she needs daycare.

A woman at home with a child half days and earning half days may consider herself doing both roles. Analysts who promote daycare may however classify her as a ‘working mother’ while she could as logically be considered a  mother at home.  The inflation of claims of numbers of women who are not at home is a risk therefore, particularly in advocacy that claims that any mother who earns needs 3rd party daycare.

The number of daycare spaces is often cited by daycare lobby groups, being the number of funded and subsidized spots available for children..  A daycare ‘space’ however is not necessarily occupied . The funding goes in case a child  registers to be there but in fact there are vacancies at many centres. So the number of ‘spaces’ is not the same as the number of children at a daycare.

The number of mothers with young children who have full time paid jobs does not indicate by itself demand or need for any particular care style. Often the number is cited by daycare activists as the number of women who need or want daycare. However they may be full time self-employed at home, not away from the children. They may be taking the child with them to the paid job such as school bus driving. They may be earning full time while the spouse is home with the children or they may have a grandparent, sitter or nanny providing care of the children.  The fact they have full time paid work does not equate to them needing or wanting daycare.

Time use surveys help reveal inaccuracies of some social labels. A mother deemed a ‘working mother’ because she has income during the year may be actually at lunch with friends, at a spa or hairdressers. When the tax system permits deductions for care of children because the mother has paid income, that in theory permits her to get financial support for someone to tend her shildren while she earns. But in practice it also permits her to deducts costs of care of her children while she is not earning also.  A mother at home who has no income to declare not only has no income but cannot deduct costs of care of the children while she has equivalent expenses at a spa or hairdressers. The term ‘working mother’ then permits a wider latitude to some mothers than others to get government funding. This creates an inequality.

Time use surveys also reveal that mothers deemed ‘stay at  home’ are often out of the home and taking children to parks, museums, for walks, and running errands with them, to gym and art classes and medical appointments.  The inaccuracy of the term’ stay at home’ becomes evident even for the poor who also prioritize taking children out of the home and encountering nature and the world.

3. the reporting of data comparatively globally

In any research study where numbers are generated, there may be a tendency to consider the number itself as a goal.   Advocates for women’s or men’s rights may cite numbers of men cooking or women earning as percents compared to the same tally in other countries. There may be a rank ordering to see which nation has the most , is first, excels others at whatever standard is being promoted such as number of dads taking paternity leave or number of children in daycare.  Such citing of numbers in a competitive way however may not accomplish any goals of actual human rights.   The agenda to do as other nations do, to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, or to be a world leader seems to use  pride and nationalism emotions  often to promote social agendas.    Which country has the longest maternity benefits, the highest number of women in paid work is easy to calculate and may be interesting but the goal of being first or best may not be realistic or helpful.

Many aspects of life, often the most important ones for personal will to live, are not quantifiable.  Happiness, feeling loved, feeling respected and valued are not on any numbers list and yet it is what care receivers want and it is what caregivers also want.

A time use survey may somewhat suggest what people do value for how they spend their discretionary time. However time use surveys also reveal how little of their time is discretionary.  When paid work demands hours and then survival and maintenance roles demand hours, then actual leisure is quite a small part of the day.

Time use surveys may however reveal the intensity of the day of any parent, whether they have paid work or not. In the 1980s women with paid work used to speak of the second shift, the double burden of doing both paid work in the day and then domestic roles at night. Time use surveys may reveal that mothers at home also have the double shift and their day also has 24 hours in it.  Women with paid work get the assistance of someone else to tend the children sometimes for those hours when they are earning while women at home are doing that role and mothers of young children often find they have nearly no personal time at all during the day. They have no coffee breaks or lunch breaks where they are not also tending the children. The second shift happens for mothers at home too since their day does not end at 4 PM or 5PM but continues into the night as does the day of the mother with paid work.    If there is an inequality between the mothers it is not that one works harder or puts in more time. It may be however that women as a group are more likely to have longer days than men do of such roles. The amount of free time and personal time and leisure for mothers is small whatever choices they make about paid work.


A census or survey is only data. It does not itself solve problems.  To collect the data is often so demanding, framing the questions, sending them out, getting the answers and studying them for patterns that once a report is written the task may seem done.

But it of course is not. The purpose of the data collection at the Bejing Platform for Action after all was to generate action.  It was only a step along the scientific method of problem, hypothesis, gather information.

A time use survey is only one of the several types of collection needed. Others include

            -how much money it cost in direct outlay to do unpaid care work

            -how much government depended on someone to do the care

            work in the economy – and how much it saved by getting

            the work done free  ( savings to health care system,

            education system, unemployment system. community

            wellbeing due to volunteer work)

            -how much it cost the unpaid worker in loss of salary

            in ‘opportunity cost’, loss of  benefits and pensions that

            are tied only to paid work

The goal of the data collection was  to correct inequality, serious systemic historic inequality. When we have identified where it exists, how it functions in language and tax policy and in repercussions for the wellbeing of citizens, we see where the repairs are needed.
And the next step is to make those repairs.

Some of these changes, seen as necessary to achieve equality may include:

1. changing terminology  – the definitions of work, labor force, productivity

            -the terms working mother, working woman, working couple

            to include those whose work is caregiving

            changing the expressions childcare , elder care, home care

            to clarify the diversity of options within each category

            change the use of the term ‘ costs’ of care to include not

            just money spent to pay third parties but also costs

            incurred of providing care in the home – opportunity cost

            and salary sacrifice, costs of supplies

2. changing the collection of data long term – including care roles

            in the GDP, in the satellite accounts, making it visible

            in economic tallies, recognizing the contribution that

            unpaid care roles make to society by money saved  not

            spent on more costly services later

3. changing the tax system

            to permit income splitting and household based tax

            to recognize the caregiver in a household as interdependent

            with the earner not as dependent and lesser

            to include the caregiver as a full person in the pension

            plan, the sick benefits plan and other programs available

            to paid workers

            to include the caregiver who is unpaid in maternity benefits

            and parental benefits and not base those on paid work

            to ensure that any government funding that goes for care

            of the young, is directed equally to all those who need care

            and that parents can choose the care style they prefer

            to ensure that there is equality between men and women

            in the care role

            to ensure that there is equality between paid workers

            and those who provide unpaid care, in social status

            and in any government funding

            to ensure there is pension recognition for the caregiving


4. changing the laws about consultation

            ensure that current and new legislation considers the effect on the care sector

            consult with the unpaid care sector and the home in

            the framing of any laws that will affect the home

            ensure that in any consultations about care of the young

            or sick, handicapped, frail elderly or dying, those

            who are to receive care are consulted, those who provide

            paid care are consulted and those who are family members

            and provide unpaid care are consulted.

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