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Developing Care: Recent Research on the Care Economy and Economic Development

The Care Economy in Developing Economies

This paper by PERI economist Nancy Folbre reviews recent research on unpaid care work in the Global South. The projects that Folbre reviews use a range of research methods to compare women’s unpaid care burdens in several developing countries. The results show that programs designed to increase women’s opportunities to earn income are typically hampered by inadequate provision for child care, leading to increased economic stress and longer work days. This research supports arguments that developing countries should invest more heavily in social and physical infrastructure to improve the productivity of unpaid work and reduce the burden placed on women as family caregivers.

This research report was funded and supported by Canada's International Development Research Centre.


Policy makers are beginning to appreciate the constraints that unpaid care work imposes on both economic development and the empowerment of women in low-income countries. Empirical research on these topics is in its infancy but is already yielding significant results. This paper contextualizes and reviews recent research on unpaid care work in the Global South, with a particular focus on projects funded through the multi-donor Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) program and other care-related research supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). These projects use national time-use survey data, mixed-methods field research including qualitative interviews, and experimental and quasi-experimental methods to compare women’s unpaid care burdens in a variety of developing country contexts, including China, India, Kenya, Nepal, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Vietnam.

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