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Shadow work is a term coined 30 years ago by the Austrian philosopher and social critic Ivan Illich. For Dr. Illich, shadow work was all the unpaid labor — including, for example, housework — done in a wage-based economy. The conventional wisdom is that America has become a “service economy,” but actually, in many sectors, “service” is disappearing. Not too many years ago, a gas station attendant would routinely fill your tank and even check your oil and clean your windshield and rear window without charge, then settle your bill. Today, all those jobs have been transferred to the customer: we pump our own gas, squeegee our own windshield, and pay our own bill by swiping a credit card. Many examples exist, helping drive unemployment rates. As the article explains, shadow work can be paid or unpaid.


1. Give some examples of shadow work that you perform each week and estimate how much it would cost a company to pay someone to do this as part of their job. How would this affect the Wages and Salaries Expense and profit for a company?

2. According to the article, what is the downside of shadow work? Give examples and discuss.

3. According to the article, what are the benefits of shadow work? Give examples and discuss.


Lambert, C. (2011). Our Unpaid, Extra Shadow Work. The New York Times, Oct. 29 (Retrievable online at