A Last Look at Care
For a concrete application, let us return to the contested topic of paid care, which has emerged as a crucial issue on the national political agenda. With the aging of the baby-boom generation, and as most mothers in the United States participate in paid work, the care of children, the elderly, and the sick is being seriously reassessed. We are confronting, Arlie Hochschild argues, a “care deficit” crisis (Hochschild 1995: 342). As Deborah Stone declared in a Nation editorial, “We have the Bill of Rights and we have civil rights. Now we need a Right to Care, and it’s going to take a movement to get it.” Noting both the emotional strains and professional constraints of informal caregivers, as well as systematic economic exploitation of underpaid formal caregivers, Stone insists, “We need a movement to demonstrate that caring is not a free resource, that caring is hard and skilled work, that it takes time and devotion, and that people who do it are making sacrifices” (Stone 2000b: 13).
Paying for care encounters the same difficulties and concerns that come up each time people try to think through the relationships between market activity and social obligations. What will happen, many worry, if paid care substitutes for informal assistance? Would the generalization of payment for such care destroy caring itself? Would its subjection to monetary calculation rationalize away its essential intimacy? Will recognizing the economic contributions of housewives turn households into impersonal minimarkets? Or, on the other hand, will subsidies to housewives increase the ghetto barriers separating them from other workers? Should grandmothers receive compensation when they care for grandchildren while their daughters work elsewhere? In any case, how can we possibly arrive at an appropriate financial evaluation of caretakers’ contributions?
Payment for care thus raises all the questions of possible corruption and disruption that so concern critics of commercialization.
Increasingly impatient with standard hostile world and nothing – but answers to such questions, a group of imaginative feminist thinkers are moving toward an alternative approach very much in the spirit of connected lives. They identify multiple forms of connection between interpersonal relations and different spheres of economic life. Questioning the idealization of unpaid care, these analysts ponder possibilities and explore actual practices where payments and care fruitfully coexist. They thus shift away from rigid certainties about money’s corruption to a clear-eyed investigation of both paid and unpaid caring. They also raise pointed questions about the equity and propriety surrounding the reward and recognition of care as a critical contribution to social well-being, arousing concerns about proper compensation for paid care workers; adequate provision for care of children, the sick, and the elderly; and economic security for unpaid caregivers.
Implicitly these thinkers are recognizing the distinctiveness and value of relational work. In the process, they are building a new economics of care. Consider, for instance, the challenge laid down by economists Nancy Folbre and Julie Nelson: “An a priori judgment that markets must improve caregiving by increasing efficiency puts the brakes on intelligent research, rather than encourages it. Likewise, an a priori judgment that markets must severely degrade caring work by replacing motivations of altruism with self-interest is also a research stopper.” Instead, they insist, “the increasing intertwining of ‘love’ and ‘money’ brings us the necessity—and the opportunity—for innovative research and action” (Folbre and Nelson 2000: 123-24; see also England and Folbre 2003).
Pointing to the child-care market as thickly social and relational, Julie Nelson argues that parents or caregivers seldom define that
market “as purely an impersonal exchange of money for services.. .. The parties involved engage in extensive personal contact, trust, and interpersonal interaction… . The specter of the all-corrupting market denies that people—such as many child-care providers— can do work they love, among people they love, and get paid at the same time.” Paid care, she insists, should not be treated as “relationally second rate” (Nelson 1998: 1470). Similarly Carol Sanger makes the point that surrogate childbearing deserves recognition as serious women’s work deserving full rewards (Sanger 1996). This book has repeatedly and amply confirmed Nelson’s and Sanger’s claims.
What’s more, these challengers note that hostile worlds assumptions portraying love and care as demeaned by monetization may in fact lead to economic discrimination against those allegedly intangible caring activities. A group of legal specialists reviewing labor arbitration decisions in cases involving employees’ use of work time for caring duties discovered concrete evidence of such discrimination (Malin et al. 2004). Their study focused on unionized workplaces, which tend to be friendlier to families than nonunion shops. Although the record of decisions was mixed, the study nevertheless found frequent disciplinary action, including firing, against employees who missed work to take care of family obligations to children, spouses, grandchildren, and parents. Employees defended by their unions in the arbitration hearings experienced a wide range of such obligations: the cases included a janitor who had missed one day of work to take care of a disabled child, a mechanic who stayed home attending to his cancer-stricken wife, and a worker at a psychiatric center who refused to work mandatory overtime because she was unable to find child care for her two young children. The unions’ intervention subverted a too-rigid division between market work and caring work that produced damage on both sides.
Legal intervention likewise combats discrimination against caregivers. In a review of legal cases where plaintiffs challenged the “maternal wall” that discriminates against parental caregivers, Joan Williams and Nancy Segal provide ample proof of continuing stereotyping and unequal workplace treatment for parents, both
women and men. In fact, they discovered startling evidence of blatant bias, with some employers openly declaring mothers to be unfit workers and others deriding fathers’ requests for parental leave. More surprisingly, however, they found an increase in litigation, as more employees file suits against unfair dismissals or penalties connected to their care work. What’s more, Williams and Segal report that courts seem increasingly likely to recognize such employee claims. As a result, although the trend is recent, more plaintiffs are winning their cases, sometimes with substantial monetary awards and settlements. Williams and Segal strongly endorse such legal action as one mechanism to end workplace discrimination against parental care work. Breaking down the pernicious “maternal wall” by recognizing the rights of caregivers, they further argue, will produce better and more productive workplaces (Williams and Segal 2003).
On a closely related matter, as Paula England and Nancy Folbre point out, “the principle that money cannot buy love may have the unintended and perverse consequence of perpetuating low pay for face-to-face service work” (England and Folbre 1999: 46). Noting that typically it is women who are expected to provide caring labor, we should suspect, they warn, “any argument that decent pay demeans a noble calling” (48). Indeed, the first study focusing on the relative pay of care work documents a significant “wage penalty” for face-to-face service providers, such as teachers, counselors, healthcare aides, and child-care workers (England, Budig, and Folbre 2002). Although both men and women involved in care work pay this penalty, women do so more often, since they are more likely to be involved in this type of work (see also Budig and England 2001).
Allowing for the social and moral legitimacy of paid care, the feminist agenda stops fretting over whether or not to pay for caring labor, turning instead its attention to the amount and form of payment and to the investigation of actual caring relationships. The problem is not, they discover, whether money is involved but whether the type of payment system matches the caring relationship. In the process, these analysts join efforts in breaking down the traditional hostile worlds dichotomies that erroneously split economic transactions and intimate personal relations into separate spheres, one antiseptically market-driven, the other cozily sentimental. To bring caring labor out of its economically marginal ghetto, they forcefully establish its fundamental economic significance and its variable economic content.
Only after we recognize that caring labor has always involved economic transactions, can we construct democratic, compassionate caring economies, supplying care workers with greater resources, legal standing, and respect than they have previously enjoyed. To be sure, recent feminist critics are not the first to identify these challenges. Historians have long since documented the nineteenth-century ideology of separate spheres segregating domestic from market worlds (see Boydston 1990; Cott 1977), nineteenth-century movements advocating wages for housework moved the issue into practical politics, and developmental psychologists (see Chodorow 1978; Gilligan 1982) have debated extensively the cognitive gendering of such worlds. Focusing on the economics of care, however, feminist critics of hostile worlds ideology bring out even more clearly than their predecessors the specific political and moral consequences of separate spheres.
In this book’s terms, the feminist rethinking of care concerns the nature and valuation of relational work. As we have discovered throughout our discussions of coupling, care, and household economies, intimate relations require extensive effort; people match particular relations with specific transactions and media, and distinguish them punctiliously from other relations with which they might become confused. Caring relations, as we have seen, not only consist of those between caregiver and recipient of care but also commonly involve other kin, friends, and neighbors. Firing a nanny, for instance, not only disrupts relations between nanny and child but also provokes changes in relations between parent and child, and often between the nanny and her own household as well. Today’s caring interactions, moreover, always have implications for tomorrow’s relations of those involved. In some cases, as with the estate claims of caretakers, these long-term connections receive concrete legal recognition.
A simple analogy with the market equivalent of a care service thus falls far short of exhausting that relationship’s weight and complexity. For that reason, policies that reckon care within households on the basis of what is currently available in the market or as a two – party contractual matter, neither capture the likely impact of a policy intervention nor evaluate the service properly. Furthermore, the very medium and modality of payment have an impact on the caring relations: they signify to the participants what kind of relation they are carrying on. That is why, beyond a broad agreement that care work is currently underpaid and undervalued, we have to understand that the form and conditions of payment themselves matter. A daily payment in cash signifies a very different relationship from a monthly check. Although they matter in specific ways for intimate settings, taking notice of the form of payment is not a trivial sentimental consideration. We have extensive evidence of how much the form of compensation matters even to CEOs of large companies, who ordinarily receive a wide range of perquisites in addition to straight monetary payments. Take away the company car, the executive washroom, or the luxury travel, and you take away some of the CEO’s distinction.