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Social infrastructure versus physical infrastructure

Infrastructure is defined as the set of goods and services that are needed for a society to operate and as such its benefits reach beyond its pool of direct users. It is generally taken to be physical infrastructure such as roads, bridges and telecommunications. However, health, care and education services also provide the necessary basis for a society to operate. It also yields wider returns well into the future in the form of a better educated, healthier and better cared for population.

However, spending on such social infrastructure is rarely considered as a suitable form of investment when policy-makers look for ways to boost the economy, especially in recessionary times. In fact, the opposite has happened. Public spending on education, health, childcare and social care services has been cut in many countries as part of deficit reduction strategies.

This neglect of social infrastructure projects reflects a gender bias in economic thinking and may derive from the gender division of labour and gender employment segregation, with women being over represented in employment in those industries that provide the social infrastructure, and men over represented in construction that provides most physical infrastructure. Male unemployment is often seen to be a more urgent problem as men are assumed to be breadwinners, despite women’s earnings being vital to keep increasing numbers of households out of poverty.