Center for Women & Work

Carework: People, Policies and Politics

We define care work as the labor involved in taking care of those who are in need of care by virtue of age, illness, or disability. In practice, when we are talking about paid workers, this includes health care, education and child care, and mental health and social services. The important thing about the concept of care work and a care sector is that it allows us to see these disparate workers as a group. As a group, these workers perform a critical function in society. And, as a group, these workers face specific challenges. We consider the care sector the “human infrastructure” of our communities – and when you start to think about it that way instead of as a series of “warm and fuzzy” jobs, it changes everything.

In 2012, a number of CWW Associates began work on an edited volume that specifically addresses the unique vulnerabilities and opportunities for paid care workers. Mignon Duffy is one of the co-editors as well as a contributing author, and CWW Associates Meg Bond, Robin Toof, Michelle Haynes, and Laura Punnett contributed to chapters. Rutgers University Press published Caring on the Clock: The Complexities and Contradictions of Paid Care Work in January, 2015. 

Caring on the Clock is about paid care workers – the nurses, child care providers, social workers, doctors, domestic workers, and home care aides who perform the essential labor of taking care of people’s most fundamental needs. This group of workers embodies the complex intersections between families and work, challenging the ideological division between private and public by their very existence. Understanding the shifting contours of this unique segment of the labor market is central both to family scholarship and to the study of work and occupations.

Between July 2008 and June 2011, Prof. Andrew Hostetler, a few paid staff members, and over 200 trained volunteers for Lowell Seniors Count visited seniors (adults ages 60 and over) in every neighborhood in Lowell, knocking on approximately 13,000 doors, delivering over 6,500 resource bags, and administering almost 1900 surveys. The purpose of this project was to see how Lowell area seniors are doing, what their lives are like, and what—if anything—they need. Although the average senior in Lowell appeared to be doing quite well, the study found that a substantial minority of seniors faced particular challenges and may not have all the resources they need to age well. Results from Lowell Seniors Count suggest the need for more research on and outreach to under-served seniors, and also point to the need for specific types of outreach (for example, to increase awareness about and access to estate planning, carbon monoxide detectors, and emergency response systems). 

Making Care Count: A Century of Gender, Race, and Paid Care Work

CWW Leadership Team member and Associate Mignon Duffy’s book Making Care Count: A Century of Gender, Race, and Paid Care Work was released in 2011 by Rutgers University Press. In the book, she uses a historical and comparative approach to examine and critique the development of paid care work in the twentieth century – including health care, education and child care, and social services – drawing on an analysis of US Census data and a range of occupational histories. Making Care Count focuses on change and continuity in the social organization and cultural construction of the labor of care and its relationship to gender, racial-ethnic and class inequalities. Debunking popular understandings of how we came to be in a “care crisis,” this book stands apart as an historical quantitative study in a literature crowded with contemporary qualitative studies, proposing well-developed policy approaches that grow out of the theoretical and empirical arguments. For more information see:,3712.aspx

Counting on Care Work: Human Infrastructure in Massachusetts

In 2007, the Center for Women and Work convened a group of scholars from around Massachusetts who study care work – the labor of meeting the most fundamental needs of a society. The majority of this labor is provided by women – either as unpaid family care or as paid care in occupations like teaching, nursing, child care and social work. The organization of care work and public policy in the area has profound implications for personal, social and economic well-being as well as for understanding the intersections of a range of inequalities, including gender, race, class, citizenship and disability.

With the support of a $35,000 grant from the Creative Economy Initiative of the President’s Office of the University of Massachusetts, CWW was the hub of an interdisciplinary and intercampus effort to document the impact of care work on the Commonwealth. Released in 2009, Counting on Care Work: Human Infrastructure in Massachusetts was intended to reach state advocates and policymakers. The findings of this report will also soon appear in academic outlets.