Underpaid, overworked, but happy? Ambiguous experiences and processes of vulnerabilization in domiciliary elderly care

Karin Sardadvar, Pernille Hohnen, Angelika Kuemmerling, Charlotte McClelland, Rasa Naujaniene, Claudia Villiosio

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    In this article, we present and discuss current empirical findings on vulnerabilities of workers in European domiciliary elderly care. We understand vulnerability as a process, taking place on different, interrelated levels: the macro level of social policies, the meso level of work organization, and the micro level of sense-making and agency. To highlight this process-oriented idea of vulnerability, we suggest referring to the term “vulnerabilization”. Furthermore, we argue that individual perspectives need to be taken into account in order to understand processes of vulnerabilization. The findings presented build upon comparative analyses of qualitative data from five countries (i.e., Denmark, Germany, Italy, Lithuania and the United Kingdom). We present seven key issues which we identify as significant in shaping vulnerabilities in domiciliary elderly care: (1) conditions and trends on the macro level of policies and regulation, (2) downsizing and time-pressure, (3) precarious contracts and low wages, (4) physical and emotional demands of care work, (5) the central ambiguity of care work being liked by workers in spite of unfavourable working conditions, (6) the work being done in the homes of customers, and (7) the perception of the sector as a “female” sector. For each of these issues, we present main results and discuss the relevance of these characteristics of care work with regard to vulnerabilization. We conclude that vulnerability is not a static trait, but a process, and that vulnerabilization can be embedded in key characteristics of the work itself, which interact with the interpretations, actions and social backgrounds of workers.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalE-Journal of International and Comparative Labour Studies
    Issue number3-4
    Publication statusPublished - 2012

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