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Outsourcing Love: Globalization, Care Economy And Its Impact On Social Relations Within Families

By Shalu Nigam

14 September, 2014

Residing in Gurgaon, a city close to Capital, being a hub of MNCs, a symbol of globalized culture, and known for its luxurious, exotic life style has its own pluses or plushes, I must say. Surrounded by latest technical products like swanky iphones, ipads, tabs, exotic cars, lavish homes, sky rocketing, fancy and designer buildings, trendy malls, stylish apartments, elegant clubs, the city is symbol of modernization thus indicating a shift in the manner in which people live and work.

However, seemingly, the economic growth is not resulting in equitable distribution of wealth, resources or improvement in quality of life for all its inhabitants. Moreover, globalization is making a drastic impact on social relations as well as love, care, and emotions within a family, and in general, creating a situation which is adverse for women and children. It may be said that the city is becoming a symbol of a power, status, sumptuousness, opulence and affluence where the desire for money, wealth, status and professional achievement is surpassing the desire for love, care, affection and above all humaneness.

Women, Care Work and Family Paradox

Indeed, it is a sign of empowerment when while breaking the traditional structure, a large number of women are entering the work place, yet the picture is not as rosy as it appears on the surface. In an aspiring society, when women as mothers leave their home, men as fathers in a patriarchal framework are not willing to cut down their working hours or volunteer to take care of family, nor any other institutions have established to replace traditional joint families and kinship network that provides support. Hence, there are a fewer hands at home to take care of the kids making both women and children vulnerable in the process.

The numbers of families where both the spouses are working are certainly increasing in number because in order to maintain that affluent status there is a continuous need to have additional incomes, however this has not changed the traditional male breadwinner and female care giver paradigm. The responsibility of care within families still rests with women, even if they have a high profile job, putting unfair burden on them. As Indra Nooyi has pointed out that women cannot `have it all’, appears to be true here in this economically blooming world.

Further, this has also created a vicious circle where to pay for the care services one need to work for longer hours and therefore again ends up neglecting the care work and social relations within the family. Frequently, the burden to manage the care work within families lies on women. Left with no choice, and in absence of institutional, family or other support, women are compelled to take up newer responsibilities of arranging and managing care work within families along with other routine tasks.

Changing Family and Changing Life Styles

In sociological terms, most of the families here are nuclear with kids being in centre or the nucleus of love, care and attention while both the parents are managing home and office, earning and affording lavish life style frequently in absence of the support structure that is traditionally being created by presence of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins within the joint or the extended family. The children therefore are left with all the latest technical gizmos surrounding them and are at the mercy of paid care worker with whom they spent a large amount of their time after the school hours. Many of them try to find solace in social media at a young age and end up being bullied or intimidated (TOI, September 10, 2014).

Also, there are certain families where an old couple or a senior citizen is residing alone because globalization has created a distance between the aging parents and their children while breaking up the conventional joint family structures. Often in many such cases, children have migrated to other places in search of a greener pasture. The care of old parents therefore, is in hand of a stranger who is charging money in lieu of providing such services. Frequently, the issue is not the finances in many of these cases but the quest is for a caring hand and support during the late years.

The informal system of care provided earlier by the larger kinship network is now declining and is becoming delicate, uncertain and fragmented. Neither the government, nor the private sector has have stepped forward to bridge the gap created by the absence of support network. This situation has caused a surge in creation of an unregulated, unfettered paid care work where a system of maids and outsourced care is replacing the traditional institutional system of care.

Often faced with compelling situations of putting long hours at work, many working women find the solution in hiring help to do the household tasks rather than sharing it with other family members including husbands. Similar is the situation with women homemakers from rich families who have not joined the workforce but in order to not to be left behind in the rat race of acquiring `new status symbols’ are joining local clubs, kitties, sports and myriad of other group activities. Reliance on outsourced help is thus becoming a necessity rather than a choice.

With the fast pace economic advancement, a typical family is moving from a production unit to a consumption unit, but in the process is failing to cope up with `care’ function of the family as a social unit. The care deficit is increasing because there is an enhancement of the needs and greed, yet at the same time, no mechanisms are created to bridge the widening gap and whatever is available is largely unregulated and unchecked. This makes a drastic impact on situation of women, children and senior citizens within families making them vulnerable.

Emerging `Care’ Market and its Impact on Social Relations within Families

With widening income inequalities, there is a section of wealthy people who are in need and position to pay for care services while there are those from poorer or middle class families who are willing to provide such services for payment. The demand and supply for paid care services, therefore exists at same place resulting in fast pace creation of a new `care’ economy.

New entrepreneurs are emerging like baby care consultants, birthday party planners, chefs, those installing hidden cameras to spy care worker at home, pet care service providers, house hold goods movers and packers and more commonly household workers.

In fact, the whole concept of `care, love and affection’ within the traditional family by the wife or the mother is now being fragmented into distinct paid positions like nanny, cook, house cleaner, laundry service providers, chauffer, coach and counselor. The care, affection and love provided by the family earlier is now being outsourced to specialists like child care workers, summer camp organizers, party coordinators, tutors and coaching centres besides maids.

The market for the consumption of paid care work therefore is expanding quickly with increasing demands for such services on the other hand and growing supplies provided by range of people with different backgrounds. Thus there are maids who are migrants from Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and other areas of Bharat, on one hand doing cleaning, cooking and taking care of children for a family and there are professionals from India who are handling laundry, organizing parties, chefs among range of other services.
Almost every aspect of care within domesticity is now gradually being commercialized thus turning family itself into an industry, a workplace, a cold, objective environment which is losing its subjectivities, warmth and care where personal loyalties and commitments are diminishing.

Families who can afford are outsourcing care services are delegating more and more care functions to someone in the lower rung of class ladder of the social hierarchy who is willing to provide these services in lieu of a small payment. This is creating a major shift in the culture prioritizing work to love, family to industry and influencing majorly children and women rather than men.

The rules and laws for regulation of such contract between the paid care service seeker and provider are absent and the agreements are formulated on the will and whims of the parties to such pact. Often, in such cases, the contracting parties are not at par and there is no clause in the agreement which deals with breach of such arrangements or violation of rights of one party by the other, resulting in chaotic situation.

Marketing of domestic services is also resulting in devaluation of both the work and the worker. Harry Braverman, an American political economist, in his famous work titled Labour and Monopoly Capital in 1974 explained that the complex task of producing a good in which craftsmen used to take pride previously are now being divided into simpler more repetitive segments due to mechanization and industrialization. Consequently, each task became more monotonous boring and less paid than the original job. Work is deskilled and worker belittled. The similar is applicable to domestic work where a person who does household chores daily does take pride in maintaining the household, however with the division of domestic work into fragments and pieces that pride is vanishing.

Commoditization of Love and Care

With new players entering the private `sacred’ domain of family, the social relations and personal equations of love and care are being altered. The mechanized emotionless labour for hire is replacing informal relations interlace between love, affection, warmth and care within family and depersonalizing the familial relationships. Money today is determining and defining the relationships in globalized world where one can bargain with it for personal love, care, affection, emotional and moral responsibilities.
As George Simmel, a German Sociologist in his famous work the Philosophy of Money in 1907 argues, that ‘when money becomes the prevalent link between people, it replaces personal ties anchored in diffuse feelings by impersonal relations that are limited to a specific purpose’.

Commitments, ethic, feelings that govern the personal relationship till now, all are being replaced by rule of money. Monetization is replacing altruism and commercialization is substituting for the emotional engagement within a relationship. Intimacy, exclusivity and affection within the personal familial relationship are being replaced by pocket allowance, expensive gifts and zooming salaries.

The cultural shift is making its dent in the sharp manner and the individual tasks being performed by women earlier are now being impersonalized. Socio-economic conditions created by globalization are resulting in decay of family bonds.

Modern commoditization is slowly entering into realm of personal spaces. The essentials of private domestic life are becoming object of sale. Fuelled by the corporate media, these are creating the false images of a perfect immediate world or surroundings where one’s body, one’s home, one’s personality, desires and one’s relationship to the others including family members, everything is perfect and is dependent on materialistic base. And this is a matter of great concern from psychological and social perspectives.
Love, care and emotions are now being reduced to a commodity or a monetary item being sold in the market and can be passed on to someone willing to work for money, depending on one’s capacity to buy and consume. The role of larger family members like grandparents, uncles, aunts etc in caring for kids in absence of parents is now being replaced by paid care workers depending on affordability of such services, though the quality of such care remains questionable.

Today, the love care economy is expanding to such a large extent that a baby may open her eyes in a lap of a stranger, see odd faces around while growing up, learn language of strangers, miss the joy of lullabies sung by the mothers or stories told by parents, utters his or her first word to the paid domestic worker and shares her scars, joy and pleasure with a maid because the mother has to attend important meetings and the father is as usual busy touring for the purpose of his business or a job.
Similarly, a senior person on her death bed shares her last words with a paid nurse because none of the children could find time to attend her during her last stage of life. That is a kind of harsh, ruthless and insensitive impact growing love care economy is making on daily social lives.

Earlier, the informal family network or a traditional sphere of authority including mothers, aunts, grandmothers or neighbours constitute a strong network support where a pregnant woman or a new mother can readily turn towards to seek advices from. Now a days, this is being replaced by internet, television talk shows, magazines, advice books, commercial advisors and anonymous authorities which acquire more say in determining ideas that govern approach to intimate life, thus aid in resolving perplexing emotional problems which were nonexistent earlier.

Thus, capitalism in its new avatar in the form of globalization is competing with the family and particularly with the role of women as a wife and a mother thus weakening familial bonds. New products and services are launched for the sake of aiding women but these tend to invade the privacy of the home and slacken the bond of social relations among family members. Instead of civilizing and humanizing the society with its discoveries, inventions, emergence of new facilities and technologies, the globalization is exploiting women.

Impact of Social Transformation on Women

The love for labour is affecting women from different backgrounds in various ways in this phase of globalization, urbanization and development. The process of transformation is resulting in sharp polarization based on the class distinctions among women. Though women as a homogeneous category are being oppressed but the experiences of all are not the same. There background, class, lifestyle and status all may be seen as parameters according to which they experience prejudice differently.

The newly emerging economy in the city is allocating social roles to different classes of working women in accordance to its own inequitable norms. There are working female executive belonging to upper strata, who are placed well in terms of education and occupation and are moving around the globe attending work related seminars or training programmes or going around for vacations, yet may be struggling at work place dominated by males to break the glass ceiling and to carve out their own identity as professionals and are also responsible for managing care work within families. Secondly, there are women working as a call centre employees, secretaries, junior or mid level executives, home makers, small entrepreneurs among others who may have adequate resources but are struggling to manage work and home and lastly there are multitude of women who are toiling hard and yet remain as invisible workforce.

This invisible category of large number of women constitute those who migrate from rural areas to cities in search of lucrative jobs and end up working as maids and other paid care workers within the wealthy families. Pushed by poverty, often, they travel to urban areas leaving their own families behind and sometimes these families include their young one. In the process, though they ease the care deficit of rich families in the urban localities in lieu of small payments but at the same time their own families back home often end up suffering because of lack of care. These women labour hard in an alien environment living in unsuitable situations to send some money back home.

While for some women, the workplace is a site of liberation, freedom from traditional roles and increased access to money and resources, for many others, the workplace is not a choice. Particularly for these migrating women who enter into workplaces where they are expected to work had in lieu of small wages, with no safety mechanisms in place, workplace becomes a site of oppression. Denied of privileges to receive education or exposure many of them are caught in the web of human trafficking and end up being the victim of sexual exploitation. Absence of labour laws and implementation of women friendly justice system or regulating mechanism to deal with such situations enhance vulnerability among these women.

In a way, this commoditization of paid care services is like an extension of slavery system in its modernized form where instead of buying a slave in a person one is paying for the services for labour a person and the service provider in this situation is compelled to put up with it mainly because of her economic necessity and therefore agrees to slog on law wages doing all dirty jobs from cleaning dirty laundry to washing toilets.

Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, their groundbreaking anthology titled Global Women in 2003 disclosed that in this new era colonial domination is exerting itself in a new from where `the main resource extracted by the developed countries from the third world nations is no longer limited to gold or silver, but love’. Ehrenreich further elaborated on the concept of oppression in `Maid to Order’ argued, “To make a mess that another person will have to deal with—the dropped socks, the toothpaste sprayed on the bathroom mirror, the dirty dishes left from a late-night snack—is to exert domination in one of its more silent and intimate forms.” Similarly, in this situation, love is commoditized and it is the poor migrant women from rural areas and their families who are further oppressed in this mode of transaction.

Reflecting On…

While summing up it may be said that the globalization and liberalization of economy is leading to social and economic transition at a fast pace however, it has failed to modernize the approach and attitudes toward women, children, and care relationship within families. The neo liberal economy could not liberate patriarchal mindset which still is clinging to the fact that women hold the major responsibilities as care takers within the family. Or as Rajni Palriwala has argued, “To challenge familial assumptions and the naturalisation of the division of labour, we need to ask some central questions about the approach to be taken to unpaid care work: do we simply recognise care as women’s work and give it value or push for more fundamental changes in the gender division of labour?” (See UNICEF’s Report)

The social transformation that is currently taking place due to pushing of neo liberal agenda has enable masses of women to move into paid workforce, however, it is sluggish in creating a shift within patriarchal ideology. The economic reforms have not been able to liberate men from giving up the traditional definition of `manhood’ or the machoism that prevent them to share work at home.

The new economic regime has set a tone for free market economy and has opened the doors for women to seek jobs but it has failed to evenly distribute resources, opportunities and incomes. Rather, the globalization has made an adverse affect on families as well as situation of women and children. Most oppressed in this situation are poor women who are migrating to big cities in search of a job. With no regulation mechanism in place the situation is becoming adverse.

The social structure or the institutional arrangements at larger level where men are the primary custodians needs to be redefined in the present context from the perspective of women and children. As Palriwala suggested that the “Care practices are not just a matter of individual choice and internal power and gender dynamics in the family, but shaped by state economic and social policy, economic processes, and social stratification”. (ibid)

The state has to take up responsibility of creating an institutional mechanism where care work within families is regulated and the private sector has to contribute to create infrastructure that allow women to participate optimally at work place. Care diamond approach (See UNICEF’s Report) has been suggested as a possibility which is located in family, state, market, community or voluntary sector which may `function as distinct and overlapping logics’ to decide “who will give care to whom, who will receive care and what sort of care”. The larger policies relating to care market, families as institutions, social stratification need to be reconsidered. Above all, the dignity, care, affection, respect in human relationships need to be preserved for everything cannot be valued in monetary terms.


Ehrenreich Barbara and Hochschild Arlie R (Editors) (2003) Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, USA: Metropolitan Books
Simmel George (1907) The Philosophy of Money, Routledge Classics: London and New York 2011

The Times of India (2014) Caught in the Web of Cyber Stalker, dated September 10

UNICEF (2009) Who Cares for the Child? Gender and Care Regime in India, Report of UNICEF – ISST Conference, NCR, India http://www.unicef.org/india/17.__Gender_Report_-_Who_Cares_for_the_Child.pdf

Shalu Nigam has been working on gender, human rights, law and governance issues for several years. She has written several books and articles on these themes. Currently she is working with the Senior Fellow, ICSSR and is affiliated with the Centre for Women Development Studies, New Delhi. She may be contacted at [email protected]



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