Should Breastfeeding Be Treated as Taxable Labor?

Over at the Lily, I read with some interested this article: Breastfeeding Isn’t Free. What if That Work Was Included in the GDP? Here is an excerpt:

Of the nearly four million babies born in the United States every year, 4 out of 5 are breastfed at some point.

Almost half consume nothing but breast milk for three months. One-quarter consume nothing but breast milk for six months. Breast milk is a vital part of the nation’s infant food supply — and it isn’t free.

Six months of exclusive breastfeeding, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, will cost a mother an average of 17 to 20 hours a week, plenty of discomfort, and a lot of sleep.

Yet unlike formula, breast milk production is not included in gross domestic product, our primary measure of “the economy.” According to economists Nancy Folbre and Julie P. Smith, it’s not a trivial omission. The exclusion of breastfeeding from GDP is part of a broader problem with international systems for measuring economic activity. These largely ignore the contributions of unpaid work historically undertaken by women.

This erasure has real consequences, they say.

“What we measure reflects what we value and shapes what we do,” write Smith and Folbre in a newly published compilation of academic work on how gender can transform the social sciences. “International systems for measuring the economy have institutionalized the devaluing of women’s unpaid productive and reproductive work, distorting the allocation of resources, and entrenching gender inequality.”

Read the full piece here.

The tax question not identical, but related. I’ve argued (here) that some pregnancies should be treated as taxable labor, but needless to say, that position isn’t making great headway with policymakers.

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