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The Scholar & Feminist Online is a webjournal published three times a year by the Barnard Center for Research on Women
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Issue: 8.1: Fall 2009
Guest Edited by Gisela Fosado and Janet R. Jakobsen
Valuing Domestic Work

Love and Gold

Arlie Russell Hochschild

Vicky Diaz, a 34-year-old mother of five, was a college-educated schoolteacher and travel agent in the Philippines before migrating to the United States to work as a housekeeper for a wealthy Beverly Hills family and as a nanny for their two-year-old son. As Vicky explained in an interview with Rhacel Parreñas,

My children were saddened by my departure. Even until now my children are trying to convince me to go home. The children were not angry when I left because they were still very young when I left them. My husband could not get angry either because he knew that was the only way I could seriously help him raise our children, so that our children could be sent to school. (Parreñas 2001: 87)

In her book Servants of Globalization, Parreñas (2001), tells a disquieting story of what she calls the 'globalization of mothering'. The Beverly Hills family pays 'Vicky' (which is the pseudonym Parreñas gave her) $400 a week, and Vicky, in turn, pays her own family's live-in domestic worker back in the Philippines $40 a week. Living like this is not easy on Vicky and her family.

Even though it's paid well, you are sinking in the amount of your work. Even while you are ironing the clothes, they can still call you to the kitchen to wash the plates. It [is] also very depressing. The only thing you can do is give all your love to [the two-year-old American child]. In my absence from my children, the most I could do with my situation is give all my love to that child. (Parreñas 2001: 87)

Vicky is part of a global care chain: a series of personal links between people across the globe based on the paid or unpaid work of caring. A typical global care chain might work something like this: an older daughter from a poor family in a Third World country cares for her siblings (the first link in the chain) while her mother works as a nanny caring for the children of a nanny migrating to a First World country (the second link) who, in turn, cares for the child of a family in a rich country (the final link). Each kind of chain expresses an invisible ecology of care, one care worker depending on another and so on. A global care chain might start in a poor country and end in a rich one, or it might link rural and urban areas within the same poor country. More complex versions start in one poor country and extend to another slightly less poor country and then link to a rich country.

Such global care chains are now on the rise. For some time now, promising and highly trained professionals have been moving from ill-equipped hospitals, impoverished schools, antiquated banks, and other beleaguered workplaces of the Third World to better opportunities and higher pay in the First World. As rich nations become richer and poor nations become poorer, this one-way flow of talent and training continuously widens the gap between the two. This is the brain drain. But now in addition a parallel, more hidden and wrenching trend is growing, as women who normally care for the young, the old, and the sick in their own poor countries move to care for the young, the old, and the sick in rich countries, whether as maids and nannies or as day-care and nursing-home aides. This is a care drain.

The movement of female care workers from South to North is not altogether new. The causes of this increase in scope and speed are many. One is the growing split between the global rich and poor. Since the 1940s, the gap between North and South has widened. In 1960, for example, the nations of the North were twenty times richer than those of the South. By 1980, that gap had more than doubled, and the North was 46 times richer than the South. In fact, according to a United Nations Development Program study, 60 countries are—in absolute terms—worse off in 1999 than they were in 1980 (New York Times 2001). Multinational corporations are the 'muscle and brains' of the new global system. As William Greider (1997) points out, and the 500 largest such corporations (168 in Europe, 157 in the United States, and 119 in Japan) have in the have increased their sales sevenfold last twenty years. Though multinationals create some jobs in poor countries, through the small enterprises and farms they put out of business, they are one engine of this growing inequality.

As a result of this polarization, the middle class of the Third World now earns less than the poor of the First World. Before the domestic workers Rhacel Parreñas (1999: 123) interviewed in the 1990s migrated from the Philippines to the United States and Italy, they had averaged $176 a month, often as teachers, nurses, and administrative and clerical workers. But by doing less skilled—though no less difficult—work as nannies, maids, and care-service workers, they can earn $200 a month in Singapore, $410 a month in Hong Kong, $700 a month in Italy, or $1,400 a month in Los Angeles. To take another example from an extraordinary documentary, When Mother Comes Home for Christmas, as a fifth-grade dropout in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Josephine Perera could earn $30 a month plus room and board as a housemaid, or she could earn $30 a month as a salesgirl in a shop, without food or lodging. But as a nanny in Athens she could earn $500 a month, plus room and board. In the absence of a public and structural solution to the gap between the rich North and the poor South, women like Vicky Diaz and Josephine Perera close the gap privately, by moving from South to North—at great emotional cost.

Even as the gap between the globe's rich and poor grows wider, the globe itself—its capital, its cultural images, its consumer tastes, and peoples—have become more integrated. Thanks to the spread of western, and especially American, movies and television programs, the people of the poor South now know a great deal more about the rich North than the rich North know about them. But what they learn is what the rich North has. Indeed, in front of the global TV, the South is daily exposed to a material striptease.

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© 2009 Barnard Center for Research on Women | S&F Online - Issue 8.1: Fall 2009 - Valuing Domestic Work