For many British families au pairs are the only workable solution to the ‘childcare crisis’. But au pairs are only ‘affordable’ because their work is not recognised and their poor conditions are justified through discourses of cultural exchange and adventure.
Researchers Dr Rosie Cox, Reader in Geography and Gender Studies at Birkbeck, University of London, and Dr Nicky Busch of the Foundation for International Education have been looking into the ‘perfect storm’ of long working hours, high childcare costs, the cultural devaluing of reproductive labour and the availability of a large, low-waged labour force from other EU countries which make the UK home to about 90,000 au pairs at any one time.
Au pairing is a significant form of low-paid domestic labour that is depended upon by tens of thousands of households in order to balance the demands of work and family life. The seminar from which this podcast is drawn reported on findings from the two-year ESRC funded Au Pair research project.
The research project brings together two important issues for contemporary society – women’s changing relationship to the home and paid work and the growth in labour migration. The project worked with au pairs and host families, stakeholders in the sector and collected data from 1000 advertisements for au pair posts in order to understand what au pairing is in contemporary Britain.
Another speaker at the seminar was Bridget Anderson, Professor of Migration and Citizenship and Deputy Director of the Centre for Migration, Policy and Society at the University of Oxford who looked at the way migration is changing how the family performs its role in social reproduction.