Care work is undervalued both in Canada and around the world — it’s time to bring it into the conversation about women’s empowerment and gender equality, argues Ito Peng.  

ITO PENG
March 16, 2018

A worker vacuums the ballroom at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, January 4, 2011. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

We have witnessed over the last couple of weeks a surge of conversations and activities across Canada and beyond around the issue of gender equality. Along with the federal government’s 2018 budget highlighting pay equity and expanded parental leave, many other events have taken place since the beginning of March, including those that marked International Women’s Day and the latest session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which ran this week in New York.

These events have made people talk and think about gender and gender equality. But one key issue that is not clearly addressed in this conversation, especially in Canada, is the care economy.

‘Care economy’ refers to the sector of economic activities, both paid and unpaid, related to the provision of social and material care. It includes care for children, the elderly, and the disabled, health care, education, and as well, leisure and other personal services, all of which contribute to nurturing and supporting present and future populations.

In Canada, this work is often done by immigrant women, women of colour, and foreign temporary migrant workers. At home and globally, it is still largely considered menial and insignificant and therefore highly undervalued. There are at least three reasons why we should be taking the care economy seriously.

First, the care economy is the fastest expanding sector of the economy, both in terms of total GDP generated and of employment creation. In the United States, for example, direct care work, such as personal care aides and home help aides, has been growing faster than any other occupational group, so much so that by 2020 it will be the largest occupational group, surpassing retail sales. According to the US-based Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, the five key elder care occupations of registered nurses, home health aides, personal care aides, nursing aides, and orderlies and attendants, will create over 2.4 million new jobs in the US between 2010 and 2020.

Today, the service sector is a fundamental component of all high-income and most middle-income country economies. In Canada, the service sector makes up 72 percent of the national GDP and nearly 80 percent of total employment. Within the service sector, care-related services are the fastest growing. This is because of the combination of aging populations and the increasing number of women entering the workforce. Canada’s 65+ population now makes up 17 percent of the total population, up from 13 percent in 2000, a figure that is expected to increase to 23 percent by 2031.

Read the rest of Professor Peng’s article here.