New Ways to Measure Economic Activity: Breastfeeding as an Economic Indicator



Breastfeeding and human milk provides an archetypical illustration of how feminist economic analysis has contributed new ways of thinking, and approaches to policymaking. Breastfeeding is an example of how the economy is mismeasured: the market value of milk formula production and sales are counted in a nation’s GDP, but the value of breast milk production is not. This is despite the fact that women and children who have not breastfed have higher rates of illness, chronic disease and hospitalisation. The financial costs to the health system and to families of this additional illness and disease are (perversely) counted as increasing GDP. In 2016, a path-breaking study estimated that premature cessation of breastfeeding cost the global economy around $300 billion a year due to diminished human capital.


National accounts Satellite accounts Time-use Unpaid work Human milk 

Key Readings

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  6. Smith, Julie P. and Lindy H. Ingham. 2005. ‘Mothers’ Milk and Measures of Economic Output.’ Feminist Economics 11(1): 41–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.University of MassachusettsAmherstUSA

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