Emerging theories of care work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Care work is done in the home as well as in markets for pay. Five theoretical frameworks have been developed to conceptualize care work; the frameworks sometimes offer competing answers to the same questions, and other times address distinct questions. The "devaluation" perspective argues that care work is badly rewarded because care is associated with women, and often women of color. The "public good" framework points out that care work provides benefits far beyond those to the direct recipient and suggests that the low pay of care work is a special case of the failure of markets to reward public goods. The "prisoner of love" framework argues that the intrinsic caring motives of care workers allow employers to more easily get away with paying care workers less. Instead of seeing the emotional satisfactions of giving care as its own reward, the "commodification of emotion" framework focuses on emotional harm to workers when they have to sell services that use an intimate part of themselves. The "love and money" framework argues against dichotomous views in which markets are seen as antithetical to true care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)381-399
Number of pages19
JournalAnnual Review of Sociology
StatePublished - 2005


  • Feminism
  • Gender
  • Inequality
  • Motherhood
  • Work

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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