Women’s unpaid work must be included in GDP calculations: lessons from history by Luke Messac, MD, PhD

Daedalus Magazine

Art: SMC.

Luke Messac, MD, PhD, Brown University

It’s been nearly 80 years since British economists James Meade and Richard Stone devised a method of national income accounting that would become the global standard. Today, we call it a country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Their method was intended to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of an entire national economy, by estimating the monetary value of all “economic” production that took place in a country in a given year. Like most economic statisticians of the day, Meade and Stone focused almost entirely on measuring the value of goods and services that were actually bought and sold.

But a problem quickly emerged, thanks to the experiences and observations of a 23-year-old woman named Phyllis Deane. She was hired by Meade and Stone in 1941 to apply their method in a few British colonies. In present-day Malawi and Zambia…

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