April 23, 2023

Patriarchy Subsidises Capitalism

Sanjay Roy

THE uninterrupted supply of labour in capitalism is ensured by a socio-cultural arrangement of producing the ‘worker’ within family and household. This is not a capitalist site of production where goods and services are produced as commodities by engaging wage labour. Instead the worker as an able-bodied subject is produced within the family by involving unpaid labour.

While discussing about primary accumulation of capital, Marx did refer to a process of alienating direct producers from the means of production and this has been done by the use of coercion. But the producers who lost control over their means of production were not immediately converted into factory workers rather had to undergo a protracted process of disciplining that also involved physical and legal coercion. But capitalism did not survive by a ‘primitive’ or pre-historic dose of expropriation which created a stream of labour ready to sell their labour power. The fact is to maintain a continuous stream of dispossessed people who have no other alternative but to sell their labour power requires first of all a continuous process of dispossession and secondly a mode of social reproduction that will produce the ‘worker’ with the physiological, emotional and cultural inputs beyond the site of capitalism. The first one is being fulfilled by continuous creation of impoverishment for the working class keeping them perpetually deprived of any means of production. This often appears not a result of force or coercion but being internalised as a process out of consent, normalised and internalised as the rule of the game both by the capitalist and the worker.

The second important arrangement is fulfilled through a marriage between capitalism and patriarchy. The worker in order to survive requires food, shelter, entertainment and their future supply requires minimum health care, education and empathy as they confront the ‘outside’ world. The socially sanctioned value of all these determines the value of labour power exchanged through wage. But this also involves a process of production within the household. The food cannot be eaten in raw form, shelter has to be maintained, children are to be taken care of, emotion, empathy and care has to be there to reenergise the worker ready for the next day. This whole process has to be done without any cost to capital and that is the way patriarchy subsidises capital relations. The unpaid labour that transforms vegetables and meat into food, takes care of children and elderly, transforms space into home has to flow from the women members of the house free of cost and that is being ensured by a conducivesocio-cultural process, patriarchy. Even if the woman member is involved in paid work or participates in the labour market, her primary responsibility continues to be performing the unpaid labour necessary to reproduce the labour forcein addition to the paid work.


According to Census 2011, India’s population stands at 121.1 crore of which 48.5 per cent is female. In 2036 the population is estimated to reach 152.2 crores and the share of female is estimated to be 48.8 per cent. In fact, the annual population growth has come down from 2.2 per cent in 1971 to 1.1 per cent in 2021 which is accompanied by improvements in sex ratio (females per 1000 males) from 926 in 1991 to 943 in 2011. In rural India the sex ratio is 949 females per thousand males and in urban India it is 929 according to the last census. Despite there being some improvement in sex ratio in the past two decades the gender-based disparity is particularly marked in case of labour force participation rates (LFPR) and employment.

The LFPR basically shows the percentage of persons employed or seeking work within the working age group. For females it meansproportion within the female working age groupwho are active in the labour market, either working or seeking jobs. For the age group 15 years and above, in the year 2020-21, LFPR for men was 77.2 per cent while for females it was 32.8 per cent. This shows how difficult it is even today for women to participate in the labour market and only roughly one-third of the total women in the working age group participate in the labour market. In regard to employment, that is proportion of people being employed or the worker population ratio (WPR) for different age segments, the gender gap continues to be significant. WPR for the age group 15 years and above was 75.3 in rural area and 70.4 in urban area for male population whereas the ratio stood at 35.8 and 21.9 respectively for female population of the same age group. Hence the proportion of women being employed is far less than the proportion of men workingand on top of that, this has been widely discussed, particularly in the context of the pandemic, that when the employers fire their existing employees it is the women and the young upon whom the axe falls first. NSSO also provides figures for average wage earnings received per day by male and female casual workers during the period April to June 2022.Female wage in rural India was only 67 per cent of the male wage for the same work and in urban areas it stood to be 69 per cent of male wage. Therefore, women even today end up receiving lower wages than men for the same work.


Work producing value is counted in a country’s GDP only when that work produces commodities. In other words, capitalism recognises contributions as work only when such activities produce goods and services for sale. It is in fact very much insensitive to those kinds of work which are not meant for sale in the market. And in a social system that works on the basis of value relations defined by exchange values, works that are not meant for sale are not only unpaid but are hardly recognisedas work as well.

Time use survey done by the ministry of statistics and programme implementation, government of India gives data on how unpaid work is being shared within an average Indian household between male and female members. The survey says 81 per cent of females engaged themselves in unpaid household work devoting five hours a day. Within the working age of 15-59 this percentage is even higher, 92 per cent and for the age group 60 and above, 78 per cent of females are involved in unpaid household work. Within the males of age group 15-59, only 29 per cent participate in unpaid work. Considering average distribution of time use in a day, males of age six years and above on an average in a day spend 67 minutes in unpaid activities, 240 minutes in paid activities and 1133 minutes in residual and other activities that include self-development and self-care. On the other hand, an average female spends 305 minutes in unpaid activities, 56 minutes in paid activities and 1079 minutes in residual and other activities in a day. Therefore, on an average a female member of the household spends 4.5 times that a male member usually spends in unpaid work while a male member spends 4.3 times compared to a female member in paid work. In order to maintain this asymmetry in distribution of time use, the society ensures two things: women are  discouraged and deprived by several means within the labour market, they are paid less wages compared to their male counterparts for same work and secondly, a cultural process that eulogiseswomen and confines them within the family role structures, is promoted. This not only helps men to justify this asymmetric distribution of unpaid household work, the fruits of which they appropriate but also greatly helps capital in lessening the cost of production of the labour power.