A housewife's labor is worth about $7 an hour to her family, researchers at Cornell University have determined, using a new method of calculation. In the past, the value of housework has been figured according to its ''market alternative,'' or what it would cost to have outsiders come to the house and work. But consumer economists Keith Bryant and Catherine Zick arrived at the $7 rate through what they call the ''opportunity cost'' method, which assumes that the value of housework performed by a full-time wife with two children is the lowest wage that would draw her into the labor market.
The ''opportunity cost'' of time for an employed wife is her actual wage rate per hour. If her family doesn't value her time at least as highly as this rate, she would try to work outside the home more, Mr. Bryant said.