Don’t Throw Out the Baby with the Bathwater!
AbstractIn the history of economic thought, unpaid care work finds a remarkably limited acknowledgement. However, two notable exceptions are found in founding figures of the Chicago School, namely Gary Becker, and of the Marxist school of thought, Friedrich Engels.
The works of both authors were widely discussed and criticised by feminist scholars. On the one hand, the “domestic labour debate” in Marxist theory mostly focused on the relationship between domestic work and capital accumulation, though it often overlooked the gendered aspects of the division of domestic work. On the other hand, the work of Becker and the New Household Economics was continued, but also fiercely criticised, by feminist economists, especially with respect to issues pertaining to individual and collective behaviour.
In this article we will present the main contributions by feminist economists on the conceptualization and analysis of unpaid care work, both in terms of developments and of criticisms to Engels’ and Becker’s theories. Even though feminist economists even turned these theories inside out, we believe that they contain ideas too that deserve to be saved, as Engels' acknowledgement of the gender division of work in different historic periods, or Becker's distinction between leisure and domestic work.