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  • Writer's pictureRachana Kadikar

The Effects of Technology on the Reduction of Unpaid Labor

During the rapid industrialization of the United States, new technologies such as the dishwasher, washing machine, etc. were emerging, significantly reducing the time and energy needed to commit to household tasks. A key step to reducing the burden of unpaid work is investing in time-saving technological improvements, especially for more developing countries that aren’t yet as technologically advanced.


About 1.6 billion people worldwide don’t have access to electricity, even though many would consider widespread electricity a vital step to the development of a country. In areas with the average increase in electrification of 0.15, there is a 1.3% increase in male employment and 1.8% increase in female employment. Women work 8.9 hours more a week and men work 13 hours more a week when compared to the same groups without electrification rates. For every .15 change in electrification rates, there are around 1.3–1.9 more hours per week per person. This increase in paid work is largely fueled by the reduction in time spent in home production and instead directed toward more formal, paid work. Overall, this data indicates that for countries without adequate electrification rates, investing in increasing it can be a promising option to pursue to reduce unpaid labor.


Transporting water is a laborious and time-consuming task that many people in developing countries spend almost eight hours each day on to get access to clean water. Policies that increase accessibility of clean water for households in low and middle-income countries have the potential to ease the lives and improve the health of thousands of people in dozens of countries, and more importantly, significantly decrease amounts of unpaid labor for households. The Hippo Roller is a tool developed in South Africa that makes transporting water easier in places lacking plumbing infrastructure. It works by holding up to ninety liters of water, five times as much as a bucket, and has a filter cap to avoid contamination.

Not only do they greatly increase the efficiency of gathering water for those who don’t have adequate access to plumbing infrastructure, Hippo Rollers are set to last between five to ten years, and are maintenance-free during this time period. Since the launch of this tool in 1994, the eponymous company has distributed over 50,000 Hippo Rollers in over 20 countries, especially in South Africa. Not only do tools such as the Hippo Roller notably reduce unpaid labor, especially in women, they also have the potential to redistribute labor as well, as men are more likely to help with water-collecting tasks if they can use a Hippo Roller to do it according to anecdotal evidence. The picture below shows the hippo roller in use in a village.

NextDrop is another private start-up in India that has great potential to increase the efficiency of controlling the water-supply in countries where clean water is difficult to access. NextDrop attempts to improve water services management with mobile technologies by providing information on water availability and working with citizens, government, and water utilities to increase feedback and effectiveness of the distribution of water.

The mobile service works through a multi-step process: valve men submit information about whether a valve is being closed or open to increase information about water distribution schedules in different areas of the city. Then the central server creates a SMS alert for consumers through the free mobile app and allows households to provide feedback on whether the water arrived on time. The information is then aggregated and analyzed to increase the overall efficiency of water distribution.

This mobile app has had positive results in increasing the transparency of the operations and organizational efficiency. Consumers were able to receive more reliable services and could plan their daily routine to anticipate the water arrival and reduce time spent in queues, therefore reducing time spent on unpaid labor. NextDrop also increased government accountability on the water utilities, ensuring that the public money was put to best use.

Digital mobile platforms that provide more easily accessible mobile banking and m-health platforms have good potential to reduce unpaid work. Research shows that around 50 minutes a week is saved on traveling as a result of these technological solutions. In modern society, digital solutions are becoming increasingly accessible, so these types of policies are easily scalable and implementable.


Cooking and cleaning makes up the majority of unpaid work globally, especially in developing countries in which households spend a significant portion of time collecting firewood and water for cooking. In South Asia, women spend about 374 hours a year collecting fuel, and in rural Uganda, women spend up to six hours per day collecting fuel. Investing in time-saving technologies like electricity and more efficient cookstoves and fuels can potentially significantly reduce unpaid care work burdens. In Nicaragua, women who had increased access to energy were 23% more likely to seek paid work activities. Investing in these time-saving technologies also removes significant household task burdens placed on children, therefore increasing their chances at an education.

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