What makes an unproductive member of society?

Productive pigs and unproductive children

[German version]

In our economy-dominated society it is taken for granted that it is essentially “the economy” that produces the goods that are socially necessary. However, this is not the case. We can convince ourselves impressively by looking at the official statistics.

The Federal Statistical Office carried out a time budget study in 1991/92 and 2001/02, in which it was determined what time people spend on what activity. In the foreword of a brochure on the results of the last study, the minister responsible at the time wrote:

The fact that the quality of life in our society includes those jobs that are not paid and are therefore not included in the national accounts - that is, household chores, child-rearing, civic engagement and volunteering - this is clearly demonstrated by this study.

Before I - in contrast to the Minister, who ends her foreword with the quoted sentence - I want to evaluate the study, a few results should first be presented. I limit myself to the data on paid and unpaid work. Unpaid work includes all household activities (so-called household production), care and support as well as voluntary activities.

The graph above (click to enlarge) shows the annual volume of unpaid and paid work for the period of the first and second study. If one calculates the respective proportions of the total work required, this results in a proportion of approx. 63% unpaid and 37% paid work (with minimal shift towards paid work).

However, the travel times to gainful employment were shown separately. If you add this to unpaid work (which should be the case as a rule: although it is necessary for gainful employment, there is no money for it), the result is approx. 65,5% unpaid and 34,5% paid work. Overall, one can therefore assume a ratio of two thirds of unpaid work and a third of paid work go out.

If one also thinks of Karl Marx's finding, according to which the value of the commodity labor power is determined by the cost of its recovery / production, then the areas separated in the study would be regeneration (Leisure, recreation, media use) and the Further education also to be included. However, since the study is a time study, the overall monetary costs cannot be determined.

The care times for people in need of care are also rather underestimated, as "the constant on-call service" (Schäfer) is not taken into account. Etc. Further points could be cited, but these increasingly lead to the Treatment of life activities as “work” generally questionable and not just the fact of whether or not they are paid.

In the study, amusingly, an attempt is made to calculate the “value” of unpaid work. A net remuneration of 6 euros (1991/92) or 7 euros (2001/02) is assumed; if the usual social benefits are added, the amounts double. If you are already doing arithmetic, then you also have to include the consumed and durable consumer goods. In the end, you end up with the “household business”, which can be compared with “normal” commercial enterprises. Their share in GDP (gross domestic product) is 43% and 40% respectively. The basis for calculation is the above-mentioned net remuneration for the "household company". If gross wages or average production wages are used here, the figures would be completely different - which makes playing with numbers on the basis of monetary values ​​generally pointless.

What does it mean when twice as many socially necessary activities are done unpaid as paid?

First of all, one should realize the fact that which is so. The "economy" is - in terms of time - not the most important area of ​​socially necessary activities. At the same time, their logic is totally dominant: only what is profitable is also made economically, in other words: exploited. No recovery means misfortune, poverty, exclusion, falling.

The "non-economy" is the other side of the "economy" in two respects: Without it "economy" would not work. It catches all those activities that have to be done but cannot be recycled. At the same time, it is a pool of the “worthless” that can potentially be “valued”: More and more activities are recorded by the utilization logic and formed according to their image (cf. the maintenance activities that are scaled by minutes, in which human attention, however, must be a foreign word ).

After all, it is not surprising that the two areas are structured according to gender (the study examines the area of ​​the “non-economy” for its gender-specific nature): the “female non-economy” contrasts with the “male economy”. But here, too, it is the same as with the general relationship between recovery and that which has not yet been recovered: what is not, can still become. And the other way around: Whose labor is no longer usable is allowed to do the physical and psychological clean-up work in the split-off "non-area".

Even the economist Friedrich List knew:

Whoever raises pigs is a productive, whoever raises children an unproductive member of society.

That is exactly where we are still today.


Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth (Ed.), Where is the time? The time use of the population in Germany 2001/02

D. Schäfer, Unpaid Work and Household Production in a Time Comparison, in: Federal Statistical Office (Ed.), Everyday Life in Germany. Analysis of the use of time, Forum der Bundesstatistik, Volume 43, 2004, pp. 247-273.

Sources online: Time budget survey

[Update: the next study should be carried out in 2012/13, results are expected for 2015]