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Story: Unpaid domestic work

Unpaid domestic work – from housework and childcare to home maintenance and repairs – has always made a significant contribution to New Zealand’s economy. New Zealand’s do-it-yourself ethos has produced some world-renowned backyard inventions.

Story by Matt Morris
Main image: The 1950s couple

Story Summary

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Many New Zealanders, especially women, have always done a lot of work in the home that they don’t get paid for. This includes cooking, cleaning and looking after children or elderly people. Their work makes a big contribution to the country’s economy but it is not included in official statistics.

Men and women

In the past, men and women have mainly done different types of work in the home – women cooked and cleaned, while men fixed things and worked in the garden.

Today, men and women spend about the same amount of time working – but women do more unpaid work, and men do more paid work.

Housework

Until the 1960s, when women got married they were expected to quit work and spend their time looking after the house and children. Their husbands were the breadwinners, whose wage supported the family. Children were expected to help by doing household chores. In the 2000s women still do more housework – such as cooking, cleaning and washing clothes – than men.

Childcare

Traditionally, women have taken care of their children at home without any pay. In the mid-1990s, the government started making it easier for all parents to go to work by subsidising childcare and providing programmes to look after children outside of school.

Clothes making and food preserving

Most women and girls used to sew and knit their own clothes. They also bottled and preserved fruit and vegetables, and made chutneys, jams and jellies. Boys were taught vegetable gardening at school. Many houses had orchards and vegetable gardens and also kept hens.

As it became easier and cheaper to buy clothes and food, fewer people made their own.

In the 2000s many people have started growing and making their own food again, because prices have increased, they are concerned about pesticide use, and they want to take care of the environment.

The shed

Many New Zealand homes had a backyard shed where men could carry out their home maintenance and do-it-yourself projects. Sheds have become smaller and are now often just in a corner of the garage. Also, it is often cheaper to buy replacements than repair broken parts.

How to cite this page:

Matt Morris, 'Unpaid domestic work', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/unpaid-domestic-work (accessed 28 June 2017)

Story by Matt Morris, published 11 Mar 2010