Housework encompasses all unpaid work performed within the household which is related to housekeeping functions, child care and personal services to adults. Today products and services that were formerly only available within private households are available for purchase on the market. Nevertheless, the time spent on housework has not appreciably decreased during this century. What has shifted are the conditions under which it is performed.

Until recently social scientists and policy makers regarded housework as nonwork in an economic sense. More recent research stimulated by feminist critiques has started to demonstrate the extraordinary importance of housework not just for the well-being of individual citizens, but for society and national economies. For instance, if unpaid housework had been included in the Gross National Product of Canada in 1992, GNP would have increased by 41.4%. If the unpaid services were purchased on the market, the replacement cost for women would have been $16 600 each and for men $9 960. This translates into 59.7% of personal disposable income.

Housework creates the context within which most people spend their private lives. In addition, it also reproduces the labour force, in a double sense: it enables labour force participants to return to the labour force each working day and it reproduces the next generation of workers.

Housework has historically been and continues to be a primarily female occupation, regardless of the fact that most married women are now in the LABOUR FORCE, rather than full-time housewives. Although there has been a normative shift - most people will say that housework should be shared by husband and wife if both are active in the labour force - this shift has so far not been translated into actual behaviour. In 1992, 65.9% of the unpaid housework in Canada was performed by women. This is a pattern which holds true internationally: women do the bulk of the housework, whether they are living in a developing nation or not, in an urban or rural setting, whether or not there are small children in the household, and regardless of social class, education and other socioeconomic factors.

Housework has been accorded some economic recognition by the fact that the Canada/Quebec Pension Plans have a dropout provision which give credit for time spent child rearing. All provincial-territorial FAMILY LAWS are now recognizing unpaid housework as a contribution to the family's well-being, on the basis of which each spouse is entitled to part of the family assets upon divorce.