Swiss people prefer to work for free

Einen Kuchen im Ofen backen ist eine von vielen unbezahlten Tätigkeiten in der Schweiz
Billions of hours of work are performed in Swiss households. (Image: F. B. Hansen / pixabay)

Unpaid work is an exciting phenomenon. In Switzerland, more people work for free than for pay.

“Do you know the difference between free and for free?” starts an innocuous joke. “I went to school for free, and you?” The punch line then gets under your skin.

Without diving too deeply into linguistic nuances between free, gratis and for nothing, Swiss men and women provided almost ten billion hours of unpaid work in 2020, according to the latest figures on the subject released by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) on Monday.

Women in advance

Specifically, 9.8 billion hours of unpaid work, which is significantly more than the 7.6 billion hours of paid work. This is according to the latest figures on the FSO’s Household Production Satellite Account.

Women took on 60.5 percent of the unpaid work volume, according to the communiqué. Men accounted for 61.4 percent of the paid work volume. 

On average, the nearly ten billion volunteer hours in Switzerland add up to about 1,350 hours of unpaid work per person, it added.

Sports clubs with men

Household chores account for 7.6 billion hours, or a good three-quarters of the total volume of unpaid work. The care tasks for children and adults in their own households can be estimated at 1.6 billion hours or 16 percent of the total volume per year.

Voluntary work, i.e. activities in sports clubs or cultural or charitable institutions, accounted for 621 million hours. Here, however, men are clearly in the lead, as the chart illustrates.

graph of voluntary work in Switzerland with split to male and female
Graph of monetary valuation of unpaid work

The total unpaid work performed in 2020 corresponds to a monetary value of 434 billion Swiss francs. And, according to the chart, is clearly divided between men and women and between care, domestic and volunteer work.

Work in households

In estimating the notional monetary value of unpaid work, we calculate how much private households would have to pay a person engaged through the market to perform these unpaid activities. Average labor costs by comparable occupational groups are used as comparators. 

Household labor accounts for the largest share at 319 billion Swiss francs, or about 73 percent of the total value of unpaid labor. Caregiving tasks are estimated at 82 billion Swiss francs, or 19 percent of the total value. Volunteer work comes to 33 billion Swiss francs, or 8 percent of the total value.

High share of GDP

The goal of the whole numbers exercise is to illustrate how important the gross value added of whole households actually is and should not be swept under the rug.

While household production tends to account for a very small share of the traditional gross domestic product GDP, the statisticians arrive at a gross value added of private households of a high 41.4 percent with this consideration of total household production as a share of the correspondingly expanded GDP.

All this shows impressively that all the work is free, but not for nothing.


Swiss people prefer to work for free

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