The Organization of Care Work in Italy: Gender and Migrant Labor in the New Economy

Lyon, Dawn
January 2006
Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies;Winter2006, Vol. 13 Issue 1, p207
Academic Journal
This article discusses social, political, and economic aspects--particularly, gender and race-based implications--of the organization of elder care work in Italy and globally. Care work for the elderly is a particularly acute concern in Italy and across Europe, as the population is aging while women (the traditional caregivers) have joined the labor force in record numbers and family size has decreased. As the supply of informal female carers has decreased, the need for elder care is increasing. In Italy, a significant trend is the employment of migrant female workers (many from Latin American, Eastern European, and African nations) for home-based elder care, a development supported by institutional, political, cultural-social, and economic contexts within the country. This article emphasizes that the shift to a "migrant-minder" model, however, remains embedded in the ideal of family care for the elderly. Moreover, the trend does not challenge traditional gendered notions of the division of labor between men and women. However, the shift to migrant carers creates new racial-and class-based divisions between Italian (or other European) women and the women who serve as migrant carers. Stereotypes based on the characteristics of migrant women (for example, their acceptance of low wages and willingness to work without protest) are used to devalue their care labor as "real" work, as was previously the case for female carers more generally. The gendered and racial implications of this new paradigm of care should be carefully considered as the trend toward migrant caregiving in richer countries continues.


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