The Coin of the Realm: Poverty and the Commodification of Gendered Labor

Naomi R. Cahn, George Washington University Law School


This Article examines the commodification of household labor performed by poor women. This Article also explores various perspectives on commodification, analyzing the benefits and drawbacks of commodification rhetoric. While I do not advocate payment of actual wages to mothers, I believe that focusing on the valuation of household work can be useful in clarifying some of the contemporary dilemmas faced by poor women. I conclude that market understandings can enrich family law just as family understandings can enrich market laws. My goal is not to diminish the role of caretaking by suggesting that everything has a market price. Instead, I seek to show that the inadequate economic recognition of caretaking has a market cost that does not just depress the wages of household workers, but that also interferes with social policy directed towards public welfare recipients and other poor women