By Katharine Webster
When Polish sociologist Anna Rosinska was studying abroad in Naples, Italy, for college, she discovered a large community of Polish immigrants working there as nannies, housekeepers, cleaners and elder care providers.
She was looking for a master’s thesis topic, so she researched the domestic careworkers and wrote about them when she returned to the University of Warsaw. Then she began researching domestic careworkers in Poland.
Rosinska quickly discovered something interesting: Other researchers had studied Ukrainian migrants working in the private care sector, but not native Poles, who hold the majority of such jobs. She ended up doing her doctoral dissertation on a comparison between the two groups.
“So many inequalities intersect in the domestic carework industry: gender bias, economic class and racial and ethnic prejudice,” she says. “That makes it fascinating to study and a key area for reform.”
Now, she’s using a Marie Sklowdowska-Curie Fellowship
from the European Commission to research white, non-Hispanic, American-born careworkers in New England – another understudied group – under the guidance of Sociology
Chair Mignon Duffy
, an internationally recognized expert on carework.
After two years at UML, Rosinska will spend the third year of her fellowship in Italy doing research on Italian-born careworkers. She hopes her research will ultimately result in better policies and laws.
“I wanted to address a gap in the research to learn more about the sector,” she says. “I hope to compare and contrast three very different national contexts.”
Most academic research in the U.S. has focused on carework conditions for immigrants, minorities and particular ethnic groups, who are overrepresented in domestic care jobs compared to their numbers in the population, Rosinska says. However, recent U.S. Census data indicates that about half of all domestic careworkers are still American-born, non-Hispanic whites.
By looking at working conditions for majority groups in all three countries, Rosinska hopes to learn more about which working conditions stem from the structure of the job sector itself, and which conditions are related to social privilege and prejudice.
“I’m looking at a situation in which the probability of marginalization based on race, ethnicity and immigration status is not a factor,” she says. “If we only study minorities, we can never be sure if conditions occur because of the employee’s immigration, ethnic or racial status or because of the nature of the job. If we study people who are probably more privileged than others, then we can learn more about the sector as a whole. To have good policies, we have to include everyone.”
In her U.S. research, she’s found that there are two fairly distinct classes of white, non-Hispanic and American-born domestic workers. One is well-educated, experienced, very well-paid and highly sought after. The other is younger, less educated and has little job security because the biggest demand is for part-time careworkers, she says.
“I’ve found that some career nannies cherish a lot of privilege. They earn more than $100,000 a year and fly in private jets from coast to coast because they work for very affluent people,” she says. “They are college-educated and continually in training, taking classes in psychology, early childhood education and special needs. They work on contract, even in states where there are no regulations protecting domestic workers.”
Rosinska notes that domestic workers and agricultural workers have long been exempt from U.S. labor laws that guarantee a minimum wage, recognize the right to unionize and regulate working hours and overtime pay. Nine states and two cities have passed laws governing the care sector, including Massachusetts – but the Massachusetts regulations only kick in when someone works more than 16 hours a week for a single employer, she says.
While workers hired through agencies have some protections, those in the private arrangements that Rosinska studies often have none, making them more vulnerable to exploitation, poor working conditions and unpredictable hours.
“People who work on the lower end of paid domestic care usually have to navigate and juggle several part-time jobs,” she says.
Despite that, many domestic workers still prefer carework to other jobs available to them, she says.
Rosinska’s fellowship is sponsored by Assoc. Prof. Sabrina Marchetti, an expert on domestic labor and home carework at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. For Rosinska’s U.S. research, Marchetti recommended that she work with Duffy.
“I have very strong mentors,” Rosinska says.
Rosinska is still seeking careworkers to interview. If you are working or have worked regularly as a nanny, elder care provider, babysitter, housekeeper or house cleaner, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.