Care Work: Gender, Class, and the Welfare State

Care Work: Gender, Class, and the Welfare State

Care Work: Gender, Class, and the Welfare State

Care Work: Gender, Class, and the Welfare State


Care Work is a collection of original essays on the complexities of providing care. These essays emphasize how social policies intersect with gender, race, and class to alternately compel women to perform care work and to constrain their ability to do so. Leading international scholars from a range of disciplines provide a groundbreaking analysis of the work of caring in the context of the family, the market, and the welfare state.


Madonna Harrington Meyer. Pam Herd, and Sonya Michel

The Right to—or Not to—Care

Each of us has moments of dependency, moments when we rely on the kindness or generosity of others to provide for our most basic needs. Most often, our needs are met by our family members—the mother who tends to her child’s cut knee, the husband who massages his wife’s back during childbirth, the daughter who delivers lunch to her mother as she recovers from a hip replacement. For those with sufficient resources, many moments of dependency are handled via market-based services—the day-care provider who tends to a child’s cut knee, the mid-wife who massages the back of a laboring mother, the home care provider who delivers lunch to the client recovering from a hip replacement. But many citizens, particularly children, poor disabled adults, and a significant proportion of the frail elderly, lack the resources to draw on market-based services. They rely instead on their families. Sometimes, however, the dependency is simply too great for family members, who must also juggle paid work, care of other family members, and their own physical and mental health. Where do we, in our respective societies, want to locate the burden of this dependency?

Historically, most societies have placed the burden of dependency squarely on the shoulders of families—and most notably the women within those families. Architects of welfare states that aim to locate the burden of dependency on individual families develop very few welfare programs that would spread that burden across society more generally. In the United States in particular, families were, and continue to be, seen as the primary source of care, regardless of the

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