Measuring economic progress: breastfeeding and lactation work, or the sex-and drug-trades as worldwide indicators of economic well-being

Map visualising data on the proportion of worldwide women’s earnings measured in local purchasing power, earned there., © Copyright Benjamin D. Hennig (Worldmapper Project)

Event details


Date & time

Tuesday 01 August 2017


Seminar Room 1.04, Coombs Extension Building (8), Fellows Road, ANU
ANU Canberra


Julie Smith


+61 (0)2 6125 3948
Map visualising data on the proportion of worldwide women’s earnings measured in local purchasing power, earned there. © Copyright Benjamin D. Hennig (Worldmapper Project)

For over half a century, the UN System of National Accounts (SNA) framework, centred on measuring Gross Domestic Product (GDP), has shaped how economies are viewed, economic performance is measured, and public policy priorities are set.

There is heightened pressure to make this influential economic statistic more relevant and useful as an indicator of economic advancement. In 2014, reforms were implemented in European countries by including illegal prostitution and the drug trade in GDP. But is a nation really doing better when its sex- and drug-trades are growing more quickly?

Feminist economic scholarship has been influential in highlighting the invisibility of women’s non-market sector productivity in macroeconomic statistics such as GDP, and the distorting effect of this invisibility on public policy. Lack of visibility and understanding of the unpaid care economy results in fiscal, labour market and other public policies which ignore and harm the well-being of women and children.

Breastfeeding of infants and young children is a household productive activity, which epitomizes the gender bias in how global economic statistics present the productive economy and how policy priorities are biased away from addressing important well-being issues for women and children. Human milk has been demonstrated to fit SNA criteria for inclusion, yet is not counted in GDP.

This paper addresses debates about future reform of the SNA, illustrating the implications of encompassing breastfeeding and human milk in the SNA and its economic statistics.

About the Speaker

Dr Julie Smith is an ARC Future Fellow, and Professor (Associate) at the ANU. Her current ARC Future Fellowship research focusses on the economics and regulation of markets in mothers’ milk.

Her experience includes as technical expert advisor to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2007, the US Department of Health and Human Services (2009), UNICEF UK (2012), International Baby Food Action Network (2014), and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (2015). She led a 2015 consultancy for WHO on marketing of commercial complementary foods for infants and young children.

Julie has published over thirty articles in health and economics journals, as well as several book chapters, and two books on taxation policy. Before joining the ANU, she was a senior economist in the Australian and New Zealand treasuries and at the Parliamentary Research Service where she worked in areas including national accounts, international finance, and taxation policy. Her invited expertise has contributed to several parliamentary and other public inquiries including on breastfeeding, paid maternity leave, and the GST.

Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet