Care Work

Gender & Society in the Classroom: Care Work

Organized by: Adrienne L. Riegle, PhD Candidate, Iowa State University

Updated by: Jenny Lendrum, Wayne State University

This list offers a diverse yet inclusive selection of articles relating to care work published in Gender & Society, between 2000 and 2013. While each uniquely contributes to the growing scholarship on care work, taken together, these articles represent a broad conceptualization of care work in a global context. This literature also illustrates lingering nature of caregiving constructed as women’s work. In order to reduce the number of articles resulting from searching with the terms “care work” on the Gender & Society web page, I have included neither book reviews nor less-relevant articles in this list. The more recent research included draws on previous literature in the study of care work. Instructors are encouraged to peruse the references of these articles for interesting scholarship published in Gender & Society that precedes the most recent decade. Additionally, classes are encouraged to give particular attention to the special issue (vol. 17, issue 2) dedicated to care work in April 2003.

Conlon, Catherine, Virpi Timonen, Gemma Carney, and Thomas Scharf. 2014. Women (Re) negotiating Care across Family Generations: Intersections of Gender and Socioeconomic Status. Gender & Society, 28 (5): pp.729-751.

Changing Generations, a study of intergenerational relations in Ireland undertaken between 2011 and 2013 by the Social Policy and Ageing Research Centre (SPARC), Trinity College, Dublin, and the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology (ICSG), NUI Galway, used the Constructivist Grounded Theory method to interrogate support and care provision between generations. This article draws on interviews with 52 women ages 18 to 102, allowing for simultaneous analysis of older and younger women’s perspectives. The intersectionality of gender and class emerged as central to the analysis. Socioeconomic positions shape contrasting forms of interdependency among family generations, ranging from “enmeshed” lives among lower socioeconomic groups to “freed” lives among higher socioeconomic groups. Women are initiating changes in how care and support flow across generations. Older women in higher socioeconomic groups are attuned to how emotional capital women expend across family generations can constrain (young) women’s lives. In an expression of solidarity, older women are renegotiating the place of care labor in their own lives and in the lives of younger women. A new reciprocity emerges that amounts to women “undoing gender.” This process is, however, deeply classed as it is women in higher socioeconomic groups whose resources best place them to renegotiate care. 

Avril, Christelle, and Marie Cartier. 2014. Subordination in Home Service Jobs Comparing Providers of Home-Based Child Care, Elder Care, and Cleaning in France. Gender & Society, 28 (4): pp. 609-630.

Home-based service jobs have developed considerably across Western societies. In fact, chances are high that a working-class woman in France today will, at some point in her life, be a house cleaner, home-based child care provider, or home aide for the elderly. Going against political, scholarly, and everyday discourses that, saturated with the double prejudices of gender and class, treat all these home service occupations, which require little prior training, the same, this article illuminates the variability of the forms of subordination experienced by women practicing these occupations in France. Comparing these jobs with the ensemble of low-skill jobs and with each other exposes what is specific to the particular form of subordination each job type entails, in terms of the extent of job supervision and the nature of the home where it is practiced, the presence or absence of relations with coworkers and/or a “public,” and the nature of this “public.” It mobilizes nationwide statistical data in a new way to shift attention to these numerous ordinary work situations, which are much less studied than those of the domestic workers of the wealthiest cities of the Western world.

Jennifer M. C. Torres. 2015. Expertise and Sliding Scales: Lactation Consultants, Doulas, and the Relational Work of Breastfeeding and Labor Support. Gender & Society, 29(2): pp. 244-264.

The combination of money and intimacy, particularly in the context of paid caring, can be difficult, given the tendency to view them as belonging to separate spheres. This research studied paid caring within the context of breastfeeding and labor support, using 72 interviews with lactation consultants, doulas, clients, and health care professionals, as well as 150 hours of ethnographic observation. Building upon the work of Viviana Zelizer, I examined the relational work of lactation consultants, doulas, and their clients, finding that this process is highly influenced by the way gender is mapped onto the separate spheres dichotomy. Lactation consultants, doulas, and their clients drew boundaries around their social relations to construct them as different from family care in order to legitimate the combination of money and intimacy. Lactation consultants and doulas both experienced tension in determining appropriate transactions and media for their care work, which illustrates how the separate spheres ideology can perpetuate the relative low pay of care work.   

Gerstel, Naomi and Sally K. Gallagher. 2001. Men’s caregiving: Gender and the contingent character of care. Gender & Society 15(2): 197-217.

This article extends recent scholarship on masculinity by analyzing the effects of social structure, social relations, and gendered caregiving ideology on the care men give to kin and friends. To be sure, men spend significantly less time giving care than do women. However, much variation is contingent on the women in men’s lives: It is primarily the characteristics of men’s families (including wives’ caregiving; the presence of young children, especially daughters; and the availability of siblings, especially sisters) more than employment or gendered caregiving ideology that shape the amount and kind of caregiving men provide. Our findings suggest that although men’s caregiving is variable and socially patterned, it is contingent on women: Wives and daughters pull men into caregiving, while adult sisters substitute for them.

Herd, Pamela and Madonna Harrington Meyer. 2002. Care work: Invisible Civic Engagement. Gender & Society 16(5): 665-688.

Scholars who debate the cause of and solutions for the decline in civic engagement have suggested that Americans have increasingly withdrawn from community organizations, reducing their political activity such as voting and interest in the political world, and generally failing to place the common good over individual self-interest. Their analyses are steeped in a tradition that is largely gender blind and consequently ignores care work. We infuse feminist analyses of paid labor and citizenship, which emphasize the merits and burdens of care work, into the civic engagement debate. We argue that care work, predominantly performed by women, paradoxically limits, enhances, and even constitutes a vital form of civic activity. We call for a fuller slate of social policies that will both redistribute the burden of care work and reinvigorate civic engagement.

Aranda, Elizabeth M. 2003. Global care work and gendered constraints: The case of Puerto Rican transmigrants.
Gender & Society 17(4): 609-626.

Through in-depth interviews with 41 middle-class Puerto Rican transmigrants, this research examines how gender constrains global care work. Migration compromises embeddedness in care networks, concurrently heightening its meaning. Women felt these effects more acutely than men given their primary responsibility for reproductive work. Migrants engaged in emotion work to cope with constraints, strategically rearticulating care work; yet unsuccessful strategies resulted in further emotional dislocation, particularly for women. Migration led to a dichotomy in which professional success was pitted against emotional fulfillment through care work. Gender, cultural, and geopolitical factors mediated this split, contributing to a permanently unsettled flow of migrants.

Swartz, Teresa Toguchi. 2004. Mothering for the state: Foster parenting and the challenges of government-contracted carework. Gender & Society 18(5): 567-587.

This article draws on ethnographic research with a nonprofit foster family agency to examine how payment affects caregivers’ motivations and performance, as well as how state bureaucratic organization and professional supervision affect their carework. Findings suggest that contrary to conventional thought, economic interests and altruistic motives coexist for foster mothers. Although monetary compensation is a concern for these mostly working-class women, impetus for caring also stems from traditional gendered ideals of mothering, nurturing, and staying at home with their biological children. However, state regulations and rules (designed to protect children) intervene in foster mothers’ parenting and private lives and undermine their intrinsic motivations and rewards. The conclusion reflects on what this case reveals about the challenges of paid carework, especially under conditions of government supervision and regulation.

Duffy, Mignon. 2005. Reproducing labor inequalities: challenges for feminists conceptualizing care at the intersections of gender, race, and class. Gender & Society 19(1): 66-82.

The author uses census data to assess the consequences of two alternative theoretical formulations of care work for understanding the intersections of gender, race, and economic inequalities in paid care. The nurturance conceptualization focuses on care as relationship while the reproductive labor framework includes both relational and nonrelational jobs that maintain and reproduce the labor force. An empirical application of both models to the labor market shows that placing increasing theoretical emphasis on nurturant care privileges the experiences of white women and excludes large numbers of very-low-wage workers from consideration.

Schultz Lee, Kristen. 2010. Gender, care work, and the complexity of family membership in Japan. Gender & Society 24(5): 647-671.

This research investigates sociological ambivalence in negotiating care work in Japanese families. Women and their aging parents experience ambivalence based on conflicting norms of filial obligation, gender ideology, and cultural beliefs about the parent–child bond. Analysis of in-depth interview data showed ambivalence was based on (1) conflict between norms and cultural beliefs and (2) intergenerational differences in norms of caregiving. Not only are norms of care work in Japan gendered, but they also create conflicting demands for women who are torn among providing care for their parents, providing care for their in-laws, and changing expectations for women in contemporary Japan. In the families studied, norms of filial obligation were challenged, but gendered definitions of care work were left largely intact. These findings challenge theories of elder care that identify a hierarchy of preferred caregivers based on filial obligation and gender.

Scott, Ellen K. 2010. “I Feel as if I Am the One Who Is Disabled”: The emotional impact of changed employment trajectories of mothers caring for children with disabilities. Gender & Society 24(5): 672-696.

Despite the 1970s middle-class feminist dream that women could have it all–families characterized by equitable distributions of household labor and interesting careers–the decades since have told a different story. In the U.S. context of a neoliberal labor market and privatized systems of family care, mothers still struggle to negotiate the conflicting demands of family and employment, particularly when caring for children with disabilities. Though an extensive literature examines labor market participation for mothers of children with disabilities, few scholars have examined the emotional impact of their altered career plans. Drawing from a sample of 40 single- and two-parent families, the author examines mothers’ accounts of care for children with disabilities, focusing on their emotional experiences of their changed employment trajectories.

Utrata, Jennifer. 2011. Youth privilege: Doing age and gender in Russia’s single-mother families. Gender & Society 25(5): 616-641.

Relative to gender, race, and class, age relations are undertheorized. Yet age, like gender, is routinely accomplished in daily life. Grandmothers and adult daughters simultaneously do age and gender as they support one another in managing paid work and domestic responsibilities. Drawing on ethnographic data and interviews with 90 single mothers and 30 grandmothers (babushki) in Russia, I explore intergenerational negotiations for support. Both single mothers and grandmothers are held accountable for doing gendered age, but labor and marriage markets tip the balance in favor of single mothers. Single mothers re-create youth privilege, finding their lives simpler with a babushka. Some grandmothers embrace newer discourses of femininity, challenging assumptions about age and family status that oblige them to perform care work. But most grandmothers do whatever they can to help daughters, feeling more dependent than ever on them because of the uncertainties of capitalism and the state’s retrenchment. I contribute to theories of age and gender intersectionality by making visible both single mothers’ youth privilege and grandmothers’ unpaid, often devalued, care work.

Hoang, Lan Anh, and Brenda S. A. Yeoh 2011. Breadwinning wives and “left-behind” husbands: Men and masculinities in the Vietnamese transnational family. Gender & Society 25(6): 717-739.

This article explores an aspect of women’s transnational labor migration that has been understudied in many labor-sending countries: how men experience shifts in the household labor division triggered by women’s migration. In so doing, we shed light on the diverse ways notions of masculinity and gender identities are being reworked and renegotiated in the transnational family. Drawing on qualitative data collected from in-depth interviews with carers of left-behind children in Northern Vietnam, we show how men are confronted with the need to take on child care duties, which have traditionally been ascribed to women, while at the same time being under considerable pressure to live up to locally accepted masculinity ideals. We provide interesting insights into the changing family structures and dynamics in Vietnamese society where patriarchal norms continue to exert significant influence on different facets of life.

Ashwin, Sarah, Irina Tartakovskaya, Marina Ilyina, and Tatyana Lytkina. 2013. Gendering reciprocity: Solving a puzzle of nonreciprocation.
Gender & Society 27(3): 396-421.

Theories of reciprocity have been surprisingly gender-blind. We develop a gendered account of reciprocity using qualitative data from Russia. We focus on gifts of unpaid task assistance, where gender differences are particularly visible. In our data, women’s gifts of labor involve greater time and effort than men’s, but women report nonreciprocation, while men do not. Paradoxically, the most onerous gifts are those least likely to be reciprocated. We show how this puzzling finding relates to the gendering of reciprocity. We define four stages of the gift cycle–giving, (non)recognition, (non)reciprocation, and givers’ responses to (non)reciprocation–detailing how each is gendered. We argue that reciprocity is a socially embedded phenomenon that cannot be considered in isolation from gender norms. This insight has implications for research employing reciprocity as a framework, and for debates in relation to issues such as care work and family relations.

Casanova, Erynn Masi De.2013. Embodied inequality: The experience of domestic Work in urban Ecuador. Gender & Society 27(4): 561-585.

Research on bodies and work relies on theoretical perspectives that see the working body as a resource and/or symbol. This study bridges these complementary theories, incorporating two concepts (occupational habitus and body work) that extend and synthesize them into a more holistic model of embodied inequality. Drawing primarily on the accounts of women domestic workers in Ecuador’s largest city, I explore the embodied dimensions of domestic work and show how unequal relations between workers and employers manifest in and on bodies, specifically through interactions around health, food, and appearance/clothing. I argue that paid domestic workers’ bodies are simultaneously resources that can be used (up) for work, and symbols interpreted according to local hierarchies of gender and class.

Peng, Yinni, and Odalia M. H.
Wong. 2013. Diversified transnational mothering via telecommunication: Intensive, collaborative, and passive.Gender & Society 27(4): 491-513.

Recent research argues that the use of information and communication technology (ICT) has created a new channel through which transnational mothers can fulfill their maternal duties from afar. However, the literature pays little attention to the diversity of mothering practices via telecommunication. To fill this gap, our qualitative research on Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong elaborates on the complexity and diversity of transnational mothering via mobile communication by demonstrating three patterns for the performance of maternal duties: intensive, collaborative, and passive mothering. We argue that transnational mothering via telecommunication is shaped by the intersection of mothers’ agency, children’s responses, and substitute caregivers’ role in child care.

Wang, Leslie K. 2013. Unequal logics of care: Gender, globalization, and volunteer work of expatriate wives in China. Gender & Society 27(4): 538-560.

Previous research has examined growing globalized divisions in domestic labor through the perspective of poor migrant women who perform care work in advanced industrialized societies. This article explores this global trend in reverse, focusing on first-world women who migrate into developing countries and engage with local dynamics of care through volunteer work. Based on 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork with Helping Hands, an organization of expatriate wives that assisted a local state-run orphanage in Beijing, China, I argue that gendered processes of privileged migration caused women to develop a “logic of care” that equated good care solely with maternal nurturance and emotional connection. This logic permeated their volunteer efforts, causing conflicts with Chinese state caregivers who prioritized the performance of reproductive tasks. This case demonstrates the socially constructed nature of logics that underlie care practices and their relationship to increasingly transnational configurations of privilege and inequality. When applied to first-world women’s charitable activities in developing countries, unquestioned gendered logics can reinforce larger global disparities of power through the stratified provision of care.

Hirsh, C. Elizabeth, Christina Treleaven, and Sylvia Fuller. 2020. “Caregivers, Gender, and the Law: An Analysis of Family Responsibility Discrimination Case Outcomes.” Gender & Society 34 (5): 760-789.

As workers struggle to combine work and family responsibilities, discrimination against workers based on their status as caregivers is on the rise. Although both women and men feel the pinch, caregiver discrimination is particularly damaging for women, because care is intricately tied to gendered norms and expectations. In this article, we analyze caregiver discrimination cases resolved by Canadian Human Rights Tribunals from 1985 through 2016, to explore how work and caregiving clash. We identify issues involved in disputes and the ways gendered expectations about work–life facilitation inform disputes and outcomes. We find that although women are more likely to bring claims and obtain favorable outcomes, the legal interpretation of claims is highly gendered. Women bring claims involving both their presumed status as caregivers and the practical challenges of seeking accommodations for care, whereas men’s claims are largely accommodation based. In adjudicating cases, Tribunals are more likely to see women than men as lacking credibility when making their claims, questioning their competence and legitimacy. In contrast, men struggle to demonstrate the legal basis of work–family interference, failing to convey how seriously work interferes with family responsibilities.