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Issue: 8.1: Fall 2009
Guest Edited by Gisela Fosado and Janet R. Jakobsen
Valuing Domestic Work

Arlie Russell Hochschild, "Love and Gold"
(page 6 of 6)

A more basic solution, of course, is to raise the value of caring work itself, so that whoever does it gets more rewards for it. Care, in this case, would no longer be such a 'pass-on' job. And now here's the rub: the value of the labour of raising a child—always low relative to the value of other kinds of labour—has, under the impact of globalization, sunk lower still. Children matter to their parents immeasurably, of course, but the labour of raising them does not earn much credit in the eyes of the world. When middle-class housewives raised children as an unpaid, full-time role, the work was dignified by its aura of middle-classness. That was the one upside to the otherwise confining cult of middle-class, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American womanhood. But when the unpaid work of raising a child became the paid work of child-care workers, its low market value revealed the abidingly low value of caring work generally—and further lowered it.

The low value placed on caring work results neither from an absence of a need for it nor from the simplicity or ease of doing it. Rather, the declining value of childcare results from a cultural politics of inequality. It can be compared with the declining value of basic food crops relative to manufactured goods on the international market. Though clearly more necessary to life, crops such as wheat and rice fetch low and declining prices, while manufactured goods are more highly valued. Just as the market price of primary produce keeps the Third World low in the community of nations, so the low market value of care keeps the status of the women who do it—and, ultimately, all women—low.

One excellent way to raise the value of care is to involve fathers in it. If men shared the care of family members worldwide, care would spread laterally instead of being passed down a social class ladder. In Norway, for example, all employed men are eligible for a year's paternity leave at 90 per cent pay. Some 80 per cent of Norwegian men now take over a month of parental leave. In this way, Norway is a model to the world. For indeed it is men who have for the most part stepped aside from caring work, and it is with them that the 'care drain' truly begins.

In all developed societies, women work at paid jobs. According to the International Labour Organization, half of the world's women between ages 15 and 64 do paid work. Between 1960 and 1980, 69 out of 88 countries surveyed showed a growing proportion of women in paid work. Since 1950, the rate of increase has skyrocketed in the United States, while remaining high in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom and moderate in France and Germany. If we want developed societies with women doctors, political leaders, teachers, bus drivers, and computer programmers, we will need qualified people to give loving care to their children. And there is no reason why every society should not enjoy such loving paid childcare. It may even be true that Vicky Diaz is the person to provide it—so long as her own children come with her or otherwise receive all the care they need. In the end, we need to look to Article 9 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which notes that a child 'should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding', and 'not be separated from his or her parents against their will.' Article 9 sets out an important goal for the world order, for the United States, and for feminism. It says we need to value care as our most precious resource, to notice where it comes from and to care where it ends up. For, these days, the personal is global.


In 1997, I lived for six months in Trivandrum, in the state of Kerala, India, as a Fulbright Scholar, a state in which many men and women worked abroad, especially in the Arabian Gulf. But it was not until I read Parreñas' dissertation on careworkers that I was moved to reflect on love as a form of gold, interview Philippina and Thai nannies living in Redwood City and San Jose, California and reflect on this form of psychological colonialism. I was also very moved by the film When Mother Comes Home for Christmas, directed by Nilita Vachani. On the whole, until very recently there has been little focus on a 'care drain', even among academics who focus on gender issues. Much writing on globalization focuses on money, markets and male labour. Much research on women and development, on the other hand, has focused on the impact of 'structural adjustments' (World Bank loan requirements that call for austerity measures) and deprivation. Meanwhile, most research on working women in the United States and Europe focuses on the picture of a detached, two-person balancing act or the lone 'supermom', omitting child-care workers from the picture. Fortunately, in recent years, scholars such as Evelyn Nakano Glenn (1986, 1991, 1994), Janet Henshall Momsen (1999), Mary Romero (1992, 1997), Grace Chang (2000) and Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo (1992, 1997, 2001) have produced important research on which this article builds (see Arlie Hochschild 2000; Ehrenreich and Hochschild 2003). Many thanks for research assistance to Bonnie Kwan. Also see the Technical Symposium on International Migration and Development, the United Nations General Assembly, Special Session on the International Conference on Population and Development, The Hague, The Netherlands, June 29-July 2, 1998, Executive Summary, p. 2. See also Migrant News, 2, (November 1998), p.2.


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