Domestic Work

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Dec 27, 2011    •    614 Views

What do drip dry clothing, take-out food, dog walkers, dishwashers, dry cleaners, and dusty ceilings have in common?

A servant shortage.

Currently, Brazil has less household help because of economic growth. Low income women who had worked and lived in the home are responding to more attractive employment opportunities in factories, shops and offices. As a result, affluent upper class households have had to transform their life styles.

The Economist compares the impact of burgeoning Brazilian affluence to Great Britain a century ago. Then also, women who had been waiting on the upper class left their homes for newly created workplace jobs. Wonderfully portrayed by the PBS Masterpiece Theater series, “Downton Abbey,” life “in-service” quickly became an anachronism.

The Economic Lesson

Looking at servants, Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) cited conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure. In his Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen says that “abstention from productive work” (p. 36, a free Google book) is evidence of affluence.

Written more recently, this article reminds us that domestic work is a gender concern that relates to the abuse of female migrant workers and the need for household assistance when middle class women enter the work force.

An economic question: What demand/supply graph would illustrate the change in the domestic worker market that the Economist describes for Brazil?

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