The Persistent Feminization and Devaluation of Care Work

Emily and colleagues working in a conference room.




Assistant Professor of Sociology

Project Summary

With life expectancy lengthening, elder care is becoming a field with increasing demand for labor. Not only this, but with the current standard family - at least in America - consisting of two parents working full time, the need for a larger child care industry has also grown. Although care work is in high demand, and requires immense dedication from those who pursue work in the field, it is often underpaid as an industry. In fact, research has shown that a “care penalty” exists, where those who work in these professions make less money than they would in professions in other fields requiring the same skill levels. There are many possible explanations as to why this penalty exists, such as: gender bias, as the positions in this field are most often filled by women, the fact that those receiving care are often young, old, or ill and lack the resources to pay for the care they are receiving, and even the fact that because the work is intrinsically rewarding, those who perform it may be more willing to accept lower wages.

In order to further explore this penalty and investigate the mechanisms which have caused it, our project team worked in two co-operating teams. As part of the policy team, I worked with large data sets and compiled relevant information into spreadsheets. I worked most closely with policies regarding parental leave, family allowances/child benefits, and guaranteed minimum income. Investigating these policies allowed us to gain insight into countries’ norms in relation to care work, as well as understand the mechanisms that have prevented progress in the industry’s value. By working with information on over 30 countries, and data across many years, I was able to gain a lot of cultural context in which I could plant my knowledge on these policies in America. This allowed me to compare the timelines and progress made between these countries. The data team worked closely with large comprehensive datasets and spreadsheets. With the use of statistical software, especially Stata, the team was able to transform data and create visualizations, allowing them to analyze patterns between countries and over time. Because this project is still in its early stages, we were not able to come to any concrete conclusions or results.

The 10 weeks I spent working on this project during the summer were a unique experience that has expanded my understanding of academic research outside of a classroom environment. Not only have I learned more about conducting research, but my ability to communicate my ideas in an academic setting has also improved greatly. I learned how to feel comfortable presenting my work, as well as feel confident in my ideas and input and their value. I was also lucky enough to get to attend two workshops on statistical software (Stata and R), even though I was not part of the data team. These workshops allowed me to learn the basics of these softwares, and gain new skills which will aid me in my future pursuits.