The Plight of Nannies and Maids from Poor Countries

Women pursue careers today out of personal preference or perhaps out of necessity to pay bills. According to a 2010 article in The New York Times by Catherine Rampell, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development stated in a report that

“Across the industrialized world, about 15.9 percent of children live in single-parent households.”

Between 1960 and 2011, the percentage of mothers who were the sole or primary source of income for their families rose from 11 to 40 percent, according to a Pew Research Center study.
Couple these statistics with information from the same Pew study that 74 percent of families said that it was harder to raise children with the rise in women working outside the home, while 67 percent felt that it made it easier for families to earn enough money to live comfortably, and you see a difficult and delicate situation parents face. The pull in two different directions means that something has got to give. For many families, that means hiring domestic help to manage the household, kids, and care for elderly family members.

Migration of Nannies and Maids

The migration of women from poor countries, typically in the southern part of the world, to the North, is the topic of a 2004 book edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild entitled Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy. The contributors to the book delve into the emotional and financial world of mothers who leave their homelands in search of a better economic life in richer countries. I wrote another article here, on one of the authors, namely Arlie Russell Hochschild.

Caring for Others

One topic that is explored in depth in the book is the idea that mothers from poorer countries who work as nannies in other countries take their love away or redirect it from their own children and give it to the children in their care in the rich country. Some feel that there is a cultural care breakdown in First World countries, and parents in these countries seek out caregivers, like nannies, who still hold to “traditional” maternal ways of caring for children that busy, anxious parents cannot provide. This often means hiring caregivers from poorer countries.

This transference of love from biological children to children they are paid to care for often results in problems in the biological children. They may have problems in school, be resentful, or otherwise have difficulties in life. The mothers move to countries where they earn much higher salaries and pay for their children to have nannies themselves while they live with relatives as well as receive a good education. Still, the maternal bond with the children is often damaged, and this causes a lot of emotional pain for both parents and children.


Maids fill in the gap that is created when women start to work outside the home. Men have not contributed much to household work as women started working outside, as far as the number of hours goes each gender spends cleaning and cooking.

“With the decrease in cleaning hours spent by the woman of the house, men were still found to spend only 1.7 hours per week by 1995 in scrubbing, vacuuming, and sweeping, whereas women still spent 6.7 hours per week performing these particular chores,”

reports Paula Smith-Vanderslice, B.S.

Problems with Working Overseas

Maids who work in other countries also face leaving their children in the care of others. Nannies and maids may even have to leave their children in orphanages, sending home remittances to the orphanage or perhaps to relatives to pay for their care and education.

These domestic workers work long hours, and they are often isolated from the larger communities in which they live. They may suffer emotional distress, culture shock, isolation, and other difficulties. They live on very little in many cases, with their money being sent back home. Some of them may even be forced to work as sex workers to their employers, but they live in isolation and cannot get help.

Perhaps an important take-away from this book is that if a mother in a First World country hires a domestic worker to help her manage her home while she works to provide for her family, it is important to remember that that worker probably has a family at home and faces financial and emotional difficulties in caring for her family.

Some understanding and encouragement to make friends and acquaintances with and outside the family, as well as the opportunity to take time for themselves and to travel home regularly to see their children could make their lives just a bit easier. Paying attention to their needs, and making an honest effort to assist them can make an important and positive difference for them.

Ia Orana Maria (Hail Mary), Paul Gauguin, Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands, 1891, Credit Line Bequest of Sam A. Lewisohn, 1951. Metropolitan Museum of Art

June 15,2015  |