Yes but who does the laundry? The World Bank on women and domestic work

by | Jul 11, 2011

The World Bank’s ‘Development Impact’ blog has a fascinating post on the relationship between low-skilled migration and high-skilled women’s work.  Increasing the number of low-skilled women in a region as more migrants arrive seems to lead to longer working hours for high-skilled women, as, presumably, they get someone else in to do the laundry and the cooking and use the extra time to do more work.  The impact seems to hold across regions – they’ve found evidence of this effect in the USA, Italy, and Brazil.

This is a tough one.  Do all the benefits from 100 years of women’s liberation just add up to the right to find another woman to do your dirty work?  Or is this a positive expression of more choices for everyone – the migrants get higher wages than they would at home, and their female employers can get on the world as men have always done?  The Bank see this as a positive development.  So does Caitlin Moran in her hilarious and insightful new book on feminism.  I think they’re right, but to really make this deal work for women on both sides of the washing machine I’d like to see domestic workers get more of the protections at work that their employers take for granted.  What we really need here is a cleaners’ trade union.


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    Claire Melamed is Head of the <a href="">Growth, Poverty and Inequality Programme</a> at the <a href="">Overseas Development Institute</a> (ODI). The programme does research and policy analysis on how economic growth can be more effective in reducing poverty and inequality. She has worked for the UN in Mozambique, taught at SOAS and the Open University, and worked for ten years in NGOs including ActionAid and Christian Aid.

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