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Discussing the GDP production boundary in a serious way

Summary:
A well-known criticism of national income is thre ‘Ïf you marry your maid you will diminish national income‘ mrmr. Sigh. We should forget about this silly male fantasy and give women their due by replacing it by what really happened. Domestic workers did not marry their single masters. They left them, as they had better paying things to do. Or the income of their family rose, which enabled them to get an education or to care for their own kids. Unprotected labor by Vanessa May is a good book about the work and life of domestic servants in new York, 1870-1940. The influence of this on how we have to understand GDP is important. So, what happened? Once upon a time, every middle class family and many other families had a maid living in. As Allyson Grossman shows, around 1870, more than

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A well-known criticism of national income is thre ‘Ïf you marry your maid you will diminish national income‘ mrmr. Sigh. We should forget about this silly male fantasy and give women their due by replacing it by what really happened. Domestic workers did not marry their single masters. They left them, as they had better paying things to do. Or the income of their family rose, which enabled them to get an education or to care for their own kids. Unprotected labor by Vanessa May is a good book about the work and life of domestic servants in new York, 1870-1940. The influence of this on how we have to understand GDP is important. So, what happened?

Once upon a time, every middle class family and many other families had a maid living in. As Allyson Grossman shows, around 1870, more than half of paid women were live in domestic servants. In 1940, this had shrunk to 20% tough while (in the USA) black women had replaced immigrant women and girls from west and northern Europe.  As these black women, who had often migrated from the south of the USA to the north, also had their own families to look after they did not want to live in, anymore. In 1960 the share of domestic servants in total female employment percentage had shrunk to a till sizeable 9%. After 1960 a combination of lower supply of servants, smaller families, household mechanisation (the washing machine, no-iron shirts, prepared meals from the supermarket, …) as well as a buoyant development of other options available to women led to a further dwindling to 5% in 1970 and about 2% in 1980. The live-in servant still exists in the USA: look here for a website where women) offer such services.

GDP has a clear production boundary: the monetary exchange economy. Which also covers domestic servants. Domestic servants largely disappeared, at least in the rich western world and in Europe to an even larger extent than in the USA. The ILO however estimates that today there are, at minimum, 67 million domestic servants worldwide. In this short blog, we have mentioned global migration, internal migration, a racial aspect, household technology, shifting demographics and differences between countries in a historical framework. In my not so humble opinion, it is more interesting to discuss the ‘production boundary’ and the shift between monetary exchange and reciprocal exchange in households against these variables than using the dumb example mentioned above. Economics can be a science, too.

Merijn T. Knibbe
Economic historian, statistician, outdoor guide (coastal mudflats), father, teacher, blogger. Likes De Kift and El Greco. Favorite epoch 1890-1930.

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