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Image: Koivth via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.5)

Image: Koivth via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.5)

by Jessica Looze, Aleta Sprague, and Jody Heymann

Over the past half century, the number of women in the workforce and their earnings rose markedly—not just in the United States, but worldwide. Yet in recent years, this progress has stagnated, and we’re still far short of gender parity in the economy. This is in large part because many workplaces continue to operate as if employees have no caregiving responsibilities. The global increase in women in the labor market hasn’t coincided with an equivalent rise in men’s share of caregiving. And in too many countries, laws and policies aren’t helping.

Indeed, the gender wage gap is largely a motherhood gap: unmarried women without children earn 95 cents on a man’s dollar, but for married mothers with at least one child under age 18, this figure drops to 76 cents. The gender gap at work is fueled by a gender gap at home. Women continue to spend more time doing carework than men, which is not simply a reflection of personal preferences: gender disparities in caregiving are embedded in, and perpetuated by countries’ laws, and policies. The consequences for the financial well-being of women and their families can be enormous.

To assess countries’ progress toward promoting gender equality in the economy and in caregiving, the WORLD Policy Analysis Center (WORLD) at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, together with our colleagues at the Maternal and Child Health Equity (MACHEquity) research program, recently released new globally comparative data and analyses on laws and policies affecting work and caregiving across all 193 UN member states. We examined the availability of leave following the birth of a child, for children’s health and education needs, as well as leave for the health needs of adult family members. The data show that while globally, countries are making some progress in promoting gender equality for workers with infant children, many countries still have a ways to go. Moreover, compared to infant caregiving, countries have made far less progress toward promoting gender equality when it comes to providing care for children beyond infancy or for elderly parents.

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Image: Francisco Martins CC BY-NC 2.0

The news in 2014 was regularly punctuated with stories of care home residents suffering abuse. As a result, care workers have been prosecuted and sentenced and homes have been closed, yet hidden camera exposes produced by residents’ relatives and by documentary film makers continue to highlight further incidents. The picture is grim. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that we have heard resurgent calls, from politicians, professional bodies and journalists, for a return to ‘compassionate care’. These calls usually emphasise the need for care workers to be re-trained so that they can learn (or re-learn) empathy. Sometimes this is juxtaposed to an emphasis on professional qualifications. For instance, UK Prime Minister, David Cameron suggested that ‘nurses should be hired and promoted on the basis of having compassion as a vocation not just academic qualifications’.

Yet, this widespread interpretation of recent crises in the care sector misunderstands the logic of care work. Simply put, it ignores the fact that care work is a type of what scholars have termed ‘body work‘: paid work that requires workers to touch, manipulate or otherwise work on, and in direct contact with, the bodies of others. For various reasons, summarized below, body work is extremely difficult to standardize or make profitable. Yet a privatized care regime is premised on companies’ ability to do precisely this: realize profit through standardization and capital-labor savings. In this context, one in which private care companies attempt to achieve largely unachievable goals, there is no reason to believe we have seen the last harm to residents nor a shift away from care practices that systematically undermine the dignity of those being cared for. Meanwhile, care workers employed by private companies have become residual casualties; unable to compensate for the structural problems endemic to privatized body work and demonized by the media when things go wrong. Read More

Did you know that know that employment decisions based on the assumption that men are breadwinners can be just as illegal as those that assume women are caregivers?  That penalties men experience as a caregiver can be illegal under Title VII?  If you’ve ever wondered what gave rise to men’s legal right to provide family caregiving and how was written—and subsequently unwritten—into law , read law professor Stephanie Bornstein’s recent publication.

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