The Care Work System: Changes and Continuities in the Provision of Care


Mencoff Hall 205

Abstract: Population aging and the lengthening of life expectancy are shifting the demand for care labor, at the same time that existing social arrangements to meet care needs in families, markets, and communities are under unprecedented pressure. Existing research focuses on specific kinds of care, such as unpaid childcare in families or paid care work for older adults, but there has been insufficient attention to empirically integrating all major types of care work; paid, unpaid, towards children and adults. This segmentation of empirical research limits our understanding about how and why the provision of care work as a whole is shifting. This study uses American Heritage Time Use Survey (AHTUS) and the Current Population Survey (CPS) to develop a fully integrated demographic description about the care work system spanning several decades. We analyze changes in the total and relative volume of different types of care work (paid/unpaid child/adult care) and changes in who does each type of care work by gender, social class, and race. The analyses show remarkable stability in the distribution of care work over the past half century. Unpaid child care is the largest component of total care work time, followed by unpaid adult care, paid child care, and paid adult care. This remarkable stability hides important changes, however, including increases in paid child care and unpaid child care that have been offset by large increases in unpaid child care time. The analyses also show important shifts in how care work is distributed across social groups. Notably, the feminization of total care work has nearly halved, driven largely by declines in the rates of feminization in unpaid child care, and the overrepresentation of racialized and non-college women in care work has slightly declined.

Bio: Pilar Gonalons-Pons is the Alber-Klingelhofer Presidential Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research examines how work, families, and public policies structure economic inequalities, with a particular focus on how inequalities change over time and over the life course. Much of her work is guided by the overall goal to develop a comprehensive understanding about the political economy and gendering of care and reproductive paid and unpaid work and its contribution to economic inequalities. A second important focus of her research is understanding how and when change in gender culture occurs and how it shapes family dynamics. Her work has appeared in the American Sociological Review, Demography, Social Problems, Social Science Research, and the RSF: Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences.


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