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Carework refers to the work of caring for others, including unpaid care for family members and friends, as well as paid care for others. Caring work includes taking care of children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled, as well as domestic work such as cleaning and cooking. As reproductive labor, carework is necessary to society. By deploying the term ”carework,” scholars and advocates emphasize the importance of recognizing that care is not simply a natural response to those in need, but hard physical, mental, and emotional work, which is often unequally distributed. Because care tends to be economically devalued, many scholars who study carework emphasize the skill required for care, and the importance of valuing care.
The scholarship on carework addresses several key issues. Understanding the balance in care provision among families, states, and markets is a central concern. There are important differences between countries where much carework is provided or subsidized by the state, those where almost all carework is provided through families, and those where much carework is provided through the market. Scholarship also highlights the tensions between paid versus unpaid care, as well as between care quality and costs for care. Care – whether provided within the family or in institutions – improves significantly with lower careworker-recipient ratios; yet such care is costly.
Finally, as all of these points suggest, inequalities provide a key approach for analyzing carework. Carework clearly reinforces gender inequality, but also inequalities of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, ability, and nation. Care is a profound and central experience in many people’s lives; it is critical to analyze the experience of care with more subtlety, recognizing that care may be empowering as well as oppressive – and may be both at the same time.
- Folbre, N. (2001) The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values. New Press, New York.
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