Recognising Unpaid Reproductive Labour: Using and Improving Gender Equality Indices

  • Caitlin Schmid

Student thesis: Phd


Gender equality indices are increasingly influential tools in policy development and knowledge production. In this thesis, I aim to assess and refine the knowledge claims made by existing gender equality indices by drawing on Social Reproduction Theory and feminist economics. I argue that it is conceptually and empirically important for these indices to pay systematic attention to the gendered division of unpaid reproductive labour, given its centrality in perpetuating gender inequality. Informed by the philosophical underpinnings of Critical Realism, I take a mixed methods approach to develop four academic articles. In Article 1, I qualitatively review existing gender equality indices to find that all but one marginalise the role of unpaid reproductive labour, limiting their explanatory power. In Article 2, I use action research to explore the possibility of advancing knowledge of gender equality through quantification by conceptualising a sub-national gender equality index for Great Britain. The framework is based on literature and policy reviews and a stakeholder workshop, which together expose challenges and opportunities in the development of gender equality indices. Next, in Article 3, I apply quantitative methods to examine the complex relationship between theory and methodology through a close examination of the European Institute for Gender Equality’s index. The analysis reveals that several of the index' methodological choices result in an inaccurate representation of the gender inequality situation of lower-GDP vis-à-vis higher-GDP countries, calling into question the picture it paints of gender equality in the European Union (EU) and, concomitantly, the required policy solutions. Finally, in Article 4, I demonstrate the value of a detailed analysis of the volumes and gender gaps in unpaid reproductive labour by constructing an improved measure for the EU and United Kingdom using the European Quality of Life Survey. Results show that - in all countries - women invest more hours than men in domestic work, childcare, grandchild care, and adult care but that marked country variation exists in the volume and size of the gender gap. Moreover, the analysis shows that in most countries the gender gaps tend to be greater for the lowest than highest income quartile. The thesis demonstrates how our understanding of gender inequality is enriched if greater attention is paid to the volumes and gender gaps in unpaid reproductive labour. Such evidence is necessary to develop policies to reduce and redistribute unpaid reproductive labour to promote greater gender equality. Further, I argue that socio-economic and gender equality should be pursued as dual aims to ensure that greater gender equality is achieved for women and men irrespective of financial resources.
Date of Award1 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMark Elliot (Supervisor) & Colette Fagan (Supervisor)


  • Social reproduction
  • Measurement
  • Critical realism
  • Feminism
  • Unpaid work
  • Care
  • Gender equality
  • Index

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