The Cost of Caring

Paula England, Nancy Folbre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Caring work involves providing a face-to-face service to recipients in jobs such as child care, teaching, therapy, and nursing. Such jobs offer low pay relative to their requirements for education and skill. What explains the penalty for doing caring work? Because caring labor is associated with women, cultural sexism militates against recognizing the value of the work. Also, the intrinsic reward people receive from helping others may allow employers to fill the jobs for lower pay. Caring labor creates public goods--widespread benefits that accrue even to those who pay nothing. For example, if children learn skills and discipline from teachers, the children's future employers benefit, with no market mechanism to make the pay given to care workers reflect these benefits. Even when the public or not-for-profit sectors do step in to hire people to provide such services for those too poor to pay, the pay is limited by how much decision makers really care about the poor. Finally, the fact that people feel queasy about putting a price on something as sacred as care limits the pay offered--as paradoxical as it is to pay less for something when it is seen as infinitely valuable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-51
Number of pages13
JournalThe Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences


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