Elizabeth F. Emens, Columbia Law School


This Article concerns a relatively unseen form of labor that affects us all, but that disproportionately burdens women: admin. Admin is the office type work – both managerial and secretarial – that it takes to run a life or a household. Examples include completing paperwork, making grocery lists, coordinating schedules, mailing packages, and handling medical and benefits matters. Both equity and efficiency are at stake here. Admin raises distributional concerns about those people – often women – who do more than their share of this work on behalf of others. Even when different-sex partners who both work outside the home aspire to equal distribution of household labor, it appears that the family’s admin is more often done by women. Appreciating the unequal distribution of this work helps us to see the costs of admin for everyone. These broader costs include wasted time, lost focus, and interpersonal tension. Though the types of admin demands that people face vary by gender, class, age, and culture, admin touches everyone. The Article makes this form of labor more salient, both analytically, through an account of its features and costs, and practically, through proposals for public and private interventions. Admin is “sticky.” It frequently stays where it lands, whether with female partners of men, one member of a same-sex couple, an extended family member managing another’s affairs, or parents of some adult children of the so-called millennial generation. By demanding time and attention, admin impinges on leisure, sleep, relationships, and work. Admin warrants a range of possible regulatory responses. Government should create less admin and possibly do more kinds of admin for people. Regulatory infrastructure should protect people’s time and spur technological innovations that reduce admin. Courts should allow parties in civil suits to claim damages for lost personal time. These and other initiatives should help to make admin more salient as a legal and cultural matter and to reduce its burdens overall. Reducing admin should benefit everyone and, in turn, disproportionately benefit those who bear its greatest burdens.