Prisoners of Love? Job Satisfaction in Care Work

By Chesters, Jenny; Baxter, Janeen | Australian Journal of Social Issues, Autumn 2011 | Go to article overview

Prisoners of Love? Job Satisfaction in Care Work


Chesters, Jenny, Baxter, Janeen, Australian Journal of Social Issues


Introduction

Most care work, paid and unpaid, is done by women. Paid care work typically involves the provision of face-to-face services to clients and has been defined as 'those occupations providing a service to people that helps develop their capabilities' (England 2005: 383). Occupations that readily fall into this category include nursing and health care jobs, teaching, childcare, elder care and care of people with a disability. While we know a little about the characteristics of the care workforce, including that it is overwhelming female, low-paid and part-time and often casual, we know less about the experiences of care workers, their motivations for undertaking care work, their perceptions of their work and their expectations for the future. There are a number of reasons why we need this information, not least because of the projected labour shortfall in the provision of care workers (OECD 1999). Population growth, population ageing, the increased involvement of women in the paid labour market and rising rates of some illnesses and disabilities suggest that Australia, and many other nations, will face labour shortages in the care workforce over coming years. If these trends continue as projected, governments and policy makers will face a number of challenges, including the provision of suitable numbers of care workers and the provision of quality care (Meagher 2007).

It is important, then, to examine the motivations and experiences of those working in the care sector as a way of identifying positive and negative aspects of care work, including the features that pull particular kinds of workers into the industry and those that act as barriers or impediments. Evaluating the factors that affect levels of job satisfaction and the motivations that propel women into care work, and perhaps deter men, may provide policy makers with a better understanding of how to provide an environment more conducive to attracting, and keeping, a more diverse workforce. At a broader level, since women make up the majority of care workers, research in this field contributes to our understanding of patterns of gender inequality in the labour market, including issues relating to the devaluation of women's work, the continuing sex gap in pay, sex segregation of the labour market, and the growth of part-time, casual and other forms of precarious and low-paid employment. This paper goes some way toward these goals by examining variations in levels and determinants of work satisfaction within two distinct female-dominated occupational groups in the service sector, childcare workers and dental assistants, using new Australian data. We briefly discuss issues identified in previous studies as important for understanding job satisfaction in care work, before considering some characteristics of these two occupational groups in the Australian context.

Job Satisfaction and Care Work

There is a growing body of research on the care workforce. In the United States the work of Nancy Folbre (1994; 2001), Paula England (2005) and Arlie Russell Hochschild (1983) has been at the forefront of attempts to develop theories explaining the characteristics and experiences of care workers. England has identified a number of conceptual frameworks to explain the pay deficit in care work. Some of these provide a means of understanding variations in satisfaction with care work. The 'prisoner of love' approach, on one hand, argues that care workers enjoy higher intrinsic rewards than other workers and hence employers are able to pay them lower wages. In other words, care workers have altruistic motives that encourage them to enter caring occupations and these motives are sufficient to sustain their involvement and prevent them from seeking work with higher pay. This approach implies that levels of satisfaction in care work will be high compared to other occupations because of higher intrinsic rewards from the job.

The 'commodity of emotion' approach, on the other hand, suggests that care workers will have lower levels of satisfaction due to the greater stresses and strains associated with the need to perform emotional labour in addition to other work demands. …

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