The Persistent Feminization and Devaluation of Care Work




Assistant Professor of Sociology

Project Summary


Care work, both paid and unpaid, is under unprecedented pressure. Population aging and the lengthening of life expectancy are increasing the demand for care labor, at the same time that existing social arrangements to meet care needs for children and adults are falling short. The total number of care workers are dwindling due to high economic penalties, and most care work is done by women. Women are disproportionately represented as caregivers despite changes in gender inequality and women’s social position. As a result, care workers are not compensated sufficiently or at all. This project proposes the first comprehensive and comparative study about all types of care work, paid and unpaid and toward children and the elderly, to investigate how the feminization and devaluation of care work is reproduced, how it can be undone, and how it contributes to care labor shortages, gender inequality, and to inequality among women.

This project is still in its early stages so this summer my team and I did a lot of foundational work. We split into two groups. One group focused on policies related to care work while the other group focused on survey data. I was part of the policy group, and we spent the summer compiling policies related to care work from the United States and various other countries. I specifically focused on US states. I created a database with easy to read information on policies such as family leave, EITC, TANF, and Medicaid for all US States and territories. This summer provided me with my first research experience. I learned how research is conducted, how to use statistical programs like R and Stata, and what the expectations of a research position are. Going into the summer I was debating whether to major in psychology or sociology. I had a wonderful experience with my professor and my team and learned so much that it cemented my desire to major in sociology. My summer here on Penn’s campus being a research assistant in the sociology department was invaluable.