The words "Care Work with Alida Miranda-Wolff" are represented in red and white boxes above a photo of a White woman in a red dress and black headband with her hand over her stomach

Understanding Care Work and How It Impacts You and Your Community – Episode #8, Minisode #1

If you are responsible for someone else’s wellbeing, whether personally, professionally, or communally, you are a care worker. In this episode, Alida goes solo for the first time to explain what is considered care work, why isolated and smaller communities experience higher forms of burnout, and how your social identities influence your relationship to care.

Episode Show Notes

Many of us will do care work at some point in our lives. If you are responsible for someone else’s wellbeing, whether personally, professionally, or communally, you are a care worker. If you have had your own wellbeing tended to by someone else, you have benefited from care work. So, with such a broad definition, what falls under the umbrella of care work? In this episode, Alida goes solo for the first time to explain what is considered care work, why isolated and smaller communities experience higher forms of burnout, and how your social identities influence your relationship to care. 

Topics you’ll learn about, including: 

  • The five elements involved in care work 
  • How burnout easily affects everyone who does care work 
  • How gendered roles in care work are seen as “woman’s work”

Important Resources From This Episode: 

Connect With Alida:

Advocate for underrepresented and underserved groups in organizations with Ethos –



ALIDA: Welcome to the Care Work Podcast. I’m your host, Alida Miranda-Wolff, and for the last ten years, as a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging practitioner, I’ve focused on providing care to other people for a living. This is a podcast about people like me, care workers. I explore with a host of guests what it means to offer care and to take care of ourselves in the process.


So I’m trying something new and it’s coming from a place of, wanting to be responsive to questions I’ve been asked about what the purpose of this podcast is, where some of the decisions and who the guests are come from, but also because my ultimate passion is to be an advocate for care work. And I think that in order to do that, sometimes we need to fill in the blanks, especially around language and history and meaning that we may not have already. So today I am recording a solo episode. And the idea behind this episode is that I’m going to explore what care work is, what it means to me in five core ways. Specifically, I want to define what care work is, but I want to talk about it as, uh, love work, woman’s work, unpaid work, and also the work of othering and being othered. So I’m just going to get started.

We’ll see how this comes out and we’ll see what ends up staying in and what ends up coming out. So the term care work has been used in a variety of different contexts. You can think about care work in terms of feminist scholarship and theory, specifically around domestic labor and unpaid domestic labor or feminine work. You can think about it in terms of what you may have experienced on your own. A lot of hospice aides, a lot of in home, medical or healthcare workers are referred to as care workers. So you might be a care worker yourself and be very used to that language, or you may have employed a care worker. There are many folks who identify with the term caregiver, but even that takes on a lot of different meaning.  You can be a caregiver if you’re a parent. You can be a caregiver to a chosen family member. You could be a caregiver in a really structured way. So a full time caregiver where maybe you are providing end of life care to a loved one, but you can also be a part time caregiver, or a weekend caregiver, or a nights and weekends caregiver.

There are a lot of different ways to think about it. When I’m talking about care work, though, I am using Nancy Folbre’s work on carrying labor, specifically the work that she did to think about an economics of care and how that relates to or doesn’t relate to both a capitalist market system and a socialist market system. If that sounds really heady and philosophical, in addition to being, of course, economic, I’m just going to quote her on what caring labor is because I think it helps. So in an interview that she gave in 2003, Nancy Folbre said, “I am defining caring labor as work that involves connecting to other people, trying to help people meet their needs. Things like the work of caring for children, caring for the elderly, caring for sick people, or teaching is a form of caring labor. Some kind is paid, some is unpaid.” So care work is literally the labor that we put into taking care of others and helping people meet their needs. In our society today often encompasses nursing, teaching, social work, but it can be more expansive.

So we have seen in the last 20 years this big emergence in talking about emotional work outside of the context of flight attendants and nurses, which is where the theory is originally developed. And now we think about emotional labor or emotional work in customer service because of the therapization of our language and the overall influence of talk therapy on our culture. Coaching is influenced by care, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Work is considered care. Physical therapy, of course, is considered care, but also things like movement therapy or leading arts programs that lead to social emotional learning.

So I like this expansive definition because I think it marks a shift in what our economy is. A lot of this work wasn’t paid and wasn’t formal for most of human history. And it is now, in part because in a market based economy, we do what earns us a living. And the reality is that everyone needs care. But the people who especially need care are often the folks with the least money or no money. So kids, uh, the elderly or older adults, people with disabilities for which the built environment is not built for them, which keeps them from participating in the market economy. We can get into all of that in another episode. I have a lot of ideas about how disability is a social construct and not an actual classification, um, of a person, since depending on the environment you’re in, you might not be disabled at all. But with that aside, we now pay people to do a lot of the work we used to do ourselves. And this is also because of the shrinking of our communities. The more that we are isolated within small family units, within small friend groups, the less people we have to both share in caring labor with, perform it for, and have it perform for us.

And so that has led to the monetization of care. And I think about this really in terms of, uh, sort of woe was me, tiniest violin in the world moment from my past when I was starting Ethos as an entrepreneur. I had a moment where I was talking to one of my friends and I just started crying. And I said, I just want a support system I don’t have to pay for. And that wasn’t to invalidate my doctors or my therapist or my psychiatrist or even the personal trainer that I was working with at the time. But to say that it seemed like anytime I was really in crisis, my people I could turn to, which were three in my personal life who I didn’t pay, that was a much smaller number than the people that I would have to pay. And let’s be clear, I feel that I should pay those people. But the sense that if I am going to be cared for when I have needs met, that there is a financial cost to it because I don’t have folks who would just perform the labor of helping me deal with something hard. I think that speaks to, again, the shrinking of our social circles and units, which, of course, is related to the decrease in social wellness that Americans in particular experience and the increase in loneliness that we’ve seen be described as an overall epidemic, even a pandemic in the digital age.

So care work, because it is tied to these people for whom we have interpersonal relationships, we’re doing emotional labor for, we want to do a good job for. Even if I am a paid teacher, I have kids in my classroom, I really have an idealistic belief in supporting caring for, helping them be the best versions of themselves. What I think is interesting about care work is it’s not really talked about in our economy, except for the elements of it that are unpaid and how that affects gender identity and gender distribution of resources and wealth. But we don’t talk about the fact that because care work is largely underpaid or unpaid and also expected. Just because I don’t make a wage for feeding my son doesn’t mean I’m going to decide today I don’t feed him. Um, there’s a much higher rate of burnout when we think about care workers. And in his book, “The End of Burnout”, Jonathan Malisec writes about this, how folks like nurses and teachers and social workers and nonprofit workers are much more likely to burn out because they tend to be idealistic. And no matter how hard you work, those ideals fail to be met. You can always give more.

In the world of care work, there’s always something more you can do. You can always adjust a pillow or rub a tummy or think about how to say something differently. Even if you feel that you have delivered your best, there’s always better. And this is really different from what we classify as, like, regular work or, market based work. Because if I am making a table, there is a point at which I can say, each table I make is identical and is meeting my standard. But with care work, one,  each person cannot be the same like a table can. And because of their individual needs, a standard of care is actually quite difficult to determine and define. So when I think about care in this way, it’s especially hard because the way I want to be cared for is not the way that others want to be cared for. And I may care for others in the way that best suits me. And so that might really work for some and not for others. But this sort of ambiguity, gray line, lack of boundary around what is care work, what is just love, what is just family, what is just connection is really tied to the idea of kind of my second point.

Care work is love work, but it’s also woman’s work because it’s woman’s work to love. And this is something that Sarah Jaffe writes about a lot in Work Won’t Love You Back, which is divided into two sections. And the first section is the work you do for the love of it and, um, work you do for the love of others. And the first part is work you do for the love of others. And that’s where we see, again, teachers, folks in customer service, nonprofits, where you’re giving something of yourself to support others. But the thing about care work is that it’s women’s work. And we can look at some of the kind of, like, traditional care work spaces and look at representation and have this better view. So, for example, in 2022, 92% of domestic workers are women. 57% of them are black, latina or Asian American Pacific  Islander  women. And we can look at house cleaning, for example. And we can say that 62% of the workers who make up house cleaners are Latina women. And this is something Angela Garbes talks about in her book Essential Labor, which is really thinking about mothering in a new way. But care work is women’s work. When we think about pink collar jobs, what are they?

The traditional pink collar job is nurse, preschool teacher. Um, it could be a nanny. It could be, again, a house cleaner. When you close your eyes and say, what is a woman’s work? What’s the job that comes to mind? These traditionally feminine coded roles make up care work and make up our expectations of women and femininity overall. I want to note that when I am using the word women, I am using the most expansive definition possible. So anyone who identifies as a woman, regardless of sex assigned at birth, regardless of gender expression or presentation, even regardless of gender congruence if you identify as a woman, I am including you in this definition of women. And with this being women’s work, it’s very important to note that a lot of these things, like I said earlier, just weren’t paid for. It’s been the traditional role of women in the family, in the society, in the community to do these things.

And that actually ties to my third point about what care work is, which is, even though Nancy Folbre identifies that some kind of care work is paid, she also notes that some of it is unpaid. And so much of care work is, in fact, unpaid work. And going back to this idea of burnout, we can see the impact of both women gaining entry into the economy through more traditional capitalist jobs. You know, I’m putting in 8 hours. I’m making a wage and a decrease in wages. So workplaces around the world have been really feminized. We talk about how it’s a lot easier now to get a job as somebody who identifies or presents as a woman than one who presents as a man. And this has a lot to do with the fact that now that we’re out of our factory, uh, jobs, manufacturing jobs, now that service is the driver of at least the American economy, more work is looking like traditional women’s work. Office jobs come with a lot of emotional labor.

There are a lot of interpersonal jobs that we do. If you think about the person who is selling you a shirt in a brick and mortar store, there are components about reading your mood, keeping a smile on their face, being helpful, giving you a note of encouragement. And so we do live in a society that values women less as a result the  fact that our work is coded as feminine means that we haven’t seen wage increases, and that impacts men. So men who are coming into office jobs or coming into nursing or coming into teaching will also bear the brunt of this work as being seen as feminine and therefore not as valuable and therefore underpaid or unpaid in all of the extra things they’re expected to do. And there’s a lot of disincentive for men to do those jobs to begin with because there’s a sense of diminished respect.

If I’m in a female coded job, I don’t know if folks like me who grew up in the 2000s, early 2010s, remember all of the kind of comedy shows built around this idea of the Manny, and there were books about it in the airport, and Freddie Prince Jr. Played a nanny on Friends, and it was a whole big joke, and everything about it was supposed to be weird. And yes, absolutely, that’s a big cultural slap for women, who, again, as we talked about with domestic workers, tend to be the majority of folks providing nanny and care. It’s also, though, a way of discouraging men from doing those roles or wanting those roles. And we do see that men have been left behind in terms of employment, especially men in the working class. And this is in part because they’re not seen as fit for these feminized jobs, but also because there is a real challenge to status in doing these jobs.

And so we’ve got care workers, women’s work being all wrapped up in this idea of unpaid work. And I think during COVID-19, one of the things that has come up the most is just the amount of women who have left the corporate workplace. And this is because of the burden of unpaid care work that they’re taking on at home. They’re still taking on more domestic work, even as we’ve talked about gender parity in the home. And surely there have been some improvements. The reality is the burden of care. And it’s a burden in part because of the way our, uh, society is structured. So I also want to be clear about this. I don’t think about care work as a burden, except in a world that says it has no value and therefore has to be on top of other kinds of work. That’s when we start to see real issues. And so I was looking at this, and one of the things that I found was that, according to Oxfam, in 2019, if women around the world made minimum wage for all of the unpaid hours of care work they performed in that year, they would have earned almost $11 trillion.

And you might say to yourself, well, that is specifically tied to developing countries and the work that gets done in developing countries where there aren’t as many opportunities for paid or gainful employment for women. But no, according to Oxfam, in the United States, there would have been the largest proportion of earnings from that minimum wage. Women would have earned $1.5 trillion. So not only do we have just this problem of women the world over are doing a lot of work they aren’t paid for in systems and societies that say your value is determined by what you get paid. But also, there’s no way of really factoring in care work into our GDP or into our economic growth. And so we essentially have a subsidy. The care workers of the world, the unpaid care workers of the world, are subsidizing economic growth, and that’s just not being factored in. And, the costs of their labor are not being factored in. In case you’re interested and want to say, how much unpaid work am I doing?

There’s a tool by Amy Westervelt that she created called the Invisible Labor Calculator. It’s essentially an inventory of all of the unpaid domestic tasks that you do, put it in, see what you’d be making. I was in, uh, the hundreds of thousands, personally, although, interestingly. I think if my husband did the inventory, he would be too. I think we have very extended care networks at this point, both of us. And we just have a lot of domestic responsibilities that are tied to things that are wrapped up in the American dream, like homeownership, like having animals that you tend to like, having a small and growing family, like being able to be there for extended and chosen family. But that’s a place where you can start to get a sense, too, of what care work is, because that inventory will let you know what is it that I’m doing that’s actually care work. My argument with the Care Work podcast by the way is that pretty much everyone is a care worker. It’s just how much of a proportion of your life is spent doing that care work. And some of us have significantly more of our time dedicated to care than others. This also brings me to something that really stuck with me from Folbrey’s work. And it’s a long quote, so bear with me. But I think it’s really valuable in considering where we are today as a society, in thinking about everything from gender roles to labor, to unions, to what it looks like to be in solidarity and community.

So in this interview from 2003, she says “there’s also something in care work itself that contributes to its undervaluation. One thing that is relevant is that care workers care about the people they are taking care of. So it is harder for them to go on strike. It is harder for them to withhold their services unless they are being paid. They become a kind of hostage to their own commitments and their own affections for the people they are caring for. So they can’t bargain as effectively as other workers can, or threaten to walk out, or not supply what is needed.” That’s one reason why it tends to be undervalued, because there are these emotional stakes related to care work. You can’t withhold your labor, which in our kind of labor focused economy, it’s really worth noting because the way that we assert power as workers is we withhold our labor.

But if I’m a doctor and I withhold my labor, somebody could die. Uh, or if I’m a parent and I withhold my labor, also somebody could die. The stakes are different. The stakes are different than not shipping code or not making another plate for, uh, an Ikea set. Right? Like this is what I mean. And it explains also our attitudes towards the folks who do end up withholding their labor. So something that sticks out to me is teacher strikes are really polarizing. If teachers are striking on their own behalf, it’s very unpopular. And part of this is that there isn’t really a place for kids to go. And so parents are put in this very untenable situation, and we don’t have a good childcare infrastructure in the United States the way that other countries have set up. But part of it is just this idea of teachers are supposed to love and care about their students, and if they’re striking for themselves, they’re putting themselves above their students. That’s the way people think about it. Obviously, it’s a lot more complicated. You can’t pour into someone else’s cup if your cup is empty. All of that oxygen mask, blah blah, blah, blah, blah. Not to trivialize it, but to say that the flip side is when teachers strike for their students, their strikes are very supported.

So this idea of who the care work is for and what level of sacrifice you are making is tied up in who you are as a person rather than what you do, which makes the fact that it’s what you do really complicated. I also want to point out here, and this is where I want to transition the market doesn’t determine the value of labor in a vacuum. It’s not sort of this antiseptic situation. Who actually does the work creates this valuation. And we see that in terms of care work being women’s work, right. Feminized work is paid less because we don’t value women as much. I also think that it’s worth noting that and I said this about domestic workers earlier who matters because, yes, white women are included in this. There’s no question about it. But when we think about women of color, this is where I say that care work is othered work and othering work, but it’s othered work in the sense that who does the majority of care work are women of color.

And this is also what drives wages down. Um, one thing that really struck me when I was reading essential labor by Angela Garbes is she brings in the perspective of her family, which is in the medical system, and her mom in particular is a nurse. And she notes that between 1965 and 1968, more than 70,000 foreign nurses entered the US. Um, mostly coming from Asia, mostly from M, the Philippines. And a big reason why was because their labor was cheaper, and so they drove down the prices for nursing, which was a growing need in the country. And this had very real consequences today. So during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Filipino nurses who were doing these frontline jobs and were considered less valuable, um, made up 34% of nursing deaths from COVID-19, even though they made up just 4% of all nurses in the US. So it’s partly who we pay, but it’s also even when we’re paying them, do we keep them safe? Do we create environments that actually lead to healthy and full lives? And I think that that’s really important to keep in mind in all of these pieces, too.

The last point I want to make here is that care work is not just other work. So the people in care work professions or who are doing care work are considered on the outskirts or on the outer rings of our economy and are also coming from traditionally marginalized or historically resilient groups. It’s also othering work. So something that came up in the Maslach Burnout Inventory is that a lot of caregivers have to cultivate a sense of emotional detachment. It’s a protective strategy because they’re taking on so much care, and they’re often not receiving care themselves. And so, ironically, to be a care worker is to actually have to dull or deaden some of your emotional and relational impulses in order to be able to survive. And this partly comes from having to subordinate your own needs and your own values. I mean, I think the question that comes up for me with care work is what does it look like to collectively bargain when you’re a primary caregiver? How do parents bargain? How do children of sick or aging parents bargain? How do people who are responsible for life giving services bargain? And they do, of course. But I think what it means is this idea of being able to advocate for ourselves and collectively bargain, it doesn’t just happen within a traditional company or organizational setting.

We have to think about a care economy and how it fits into our larger country’s economy. And so we need to think about what it means to be a care worker. Yes. What care work is, yes. But also what is its place in our society and how do we create a more concrete and equitable place for care work in our society? So if you’re intrigued by this idea or any of the ideas that I explored, a lot of the episodes of the Care Work podcast go into people’s individual stories of engaging in care work. How they take care of others, how they take care of themselves, what it means to them, why they consider this important. And so there are lessons to be learned. And if you’re like me and you want just not only the practice, but also the theory, drop me a line. Let me know if you like this, because I will be happy to do more. So episodes on what care work is, what the theory behind it is. I have loads of research, and I would love to talk to you about it.


This podcast is a collaboration between Ethos and Alida Miranda-Wolff. Episodes are available anywhere podcasts are found.

Your host is Alida Miranda-Wolff.

The opening theme “Vibing Introspectively” was written and recorded by Logan Snodgrass.

Production assistance was provided by Sonni Conway and Miera Garcia.

All sound editing and production was provided by Corey Winter.

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