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Estimate values America’s unpaid social production at nearly $2.3 trillion

July 12, 2023

The figure, which quantifies contributions to national prosperity not included in standard economic measures, equates to 9.8% of the national GDP

Americans contributed more than $2.293 trillion in social production during 2021, according to a new report from the University of Sydney’s Mental Wealth Initiative and the Reform for Resilience’s Americas Hub at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, along with collaborators, Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and CSART.


The report, entitled The Value of Social Production in the United States, calculates the total impact of contributions to American society excluded from the metric of gross domestic product (GDP). The measurement calculates the financial value of labor that has traditionally gone unrecognized, including educating and caring for children, volunteer work, participating in community groups, environmental restoration, and informal training and mentoring.


“For decades, a nation’s GDP has been the primary measure of its prosperity,” said Patricia Geli, Executive Director of the Reform for Resilience Commission. “But our global reliance on GDP as a metric for societal success ignores some of the most critical work done to support economic productivity and national resilience.


“The social productivity measured here is fundamental to a community’s well-being and economic prospects – and more often than not, the benefits come from those who are too often overlooked by societal leaders,” Geli added. “This metric’s inclusion in future discussions of ‘success’ is vital to support health and resilience.”


The findings build on earlier work done by the Mental Wealth Initiative to estimate social productivity in Australia. The new report uses data from the 2021 American Time Use Survey (ATUS) to estimate time spent in various activities and then applies that year’s median hourly earnings ($27 per hour) as a universal monetary value for labor. Given limitations on available data, the researchers believe the $2.293 trillion figure is a significant underestimate of this work’s true value.


Social productivity was highest among those traditionally undervalued in the economy. Across most categories, women were the largest generators of social production value, and Americans 65 years and older contributed the largest amount of any age group. Contributions were also higher for those who were not employed than for those who were.


“Social production is the glue that holds society together. It fosters community connectedness and wellbeing, supports people’s ability to be economically productive, contributes to environmental wellbeing, and helps make America more resilient as a nation.” said Associate Professor Jo-An Occhipinti, Co-Director of the Mental Wealth Initiative. “The value of these overlooked social contributions is so substantial that if they ceased, the demands on government every year would be too great to resource. Broadening the boundary of GDP to include social production and tracking it annually will give us a much clearer picture of the strength of a wellbeing economy and how best to invest to foster it.”


The Reform for Resilience Commission was founded in 2020 to support the development of a greener, healthier, and more economically resilient world in the face of the rising dangers of climate change and future pandemics. The Commission is made up of global hubs; the Americas Hub, which led this research, is housed at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.


The Mental Wealth Initiative was established to measure, monitor and forecast the mental wealth of nations. It works with research and industry partners to understand how coordinated policies and investments across health, social and economic systems could boost brain capital and improve the resilience, mental health, and overall Mental Wealth of nations.


For more information, please contact:    


Patricia Geli | Executive Director, Reform for Resilience Commission

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health



Jeff Sobotko | Senior Writer

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health



Harris Eyre | Neuroscientist & Fellow in Brain Health

Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy

T 310-995-0755 | E


Jo-An Occhipinti | Co-Director, Mental Wealth Initiative

Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney, Australia

T +61 467 522 766 | E

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