2010 Projects » Scoping the Australian Care Economy

The objectives of this project were to scope the Australian care economy by identifying recent literature to:

  • Examine how the care economy may be defined
  • Identify the issues relevant to paid and unpaid care
  • Collate a list of public policies which provide government support to the care economy
  • Identify the impact of the care economy on women’s economic wellbeing
  • Research recent statistics on the Australian care economy
  • Identify gaps in the literature and areas for further research.

For a full copy of the Report – click Scoping the care economy report

This research was commissioned by Security4Women in recognition of the significance of the care economy. The notion of the ‘care economy’ has arisen from feminist critiques of mainstream economics which traditionally only considered goods and services produced in the market economy as ‘productive’. Looking at care work as an economic activity is a way of making women’s work visible so that it can be valued. Encompassing both paid and unpaid work, the majority of care is provided by women with the erroneous assumption that the supply of care is infinitely forthcoming or elastic, whether it is paid or unpaid. Of importance is the tension between unpaid work in the home, voluntary work in the community, and paid work in the market as the time spent in each of these areas impacts on the amount of time available for the other two.

Another issue is the relational nature of care work that involves different motivations to utility maximisation considered to be central to market production. Caring labour has been described as labour-intensive work requiring face-to-face contact and person-specific knowledge involving love as well as labour. Caring is an ambiguous notion which encompasses physical care, which can be provided independently of a relationship between the carer and the care recipient, and emotional care in which the person caring is inseparable from the care given. Rather than being the actions of an independent and autonomous economic actor, care is a relational activity. This relational nature of caring work prevents it from being subject to the usual economies of scale when supplied in a market.

Mainstream economics assumes economic actors to be non-relational, detached individuals who make decisions based on individual choice. In contrast, feminist economists argue that economic actors are embodied and in-relation to the world around them. This notion incorporates interdependencies and also takes into account that, across the life course, people have times in their life from birth to old age when they are dependent on others to care for them. Feminist economists assert that economic activities can be better explained by the concept of ‘provisioning’ for human needs (Nelson 1993; Power 2004; González-Arnal & Kilkey 2009: 89-92). Care, wherever it is provided, is a relational activity underpinned by quite different motivations to that of ‘individual choice’.