Global Care Chain

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Concept & definition

The term ‘global care chain’ was first used by Arlie Hochschild to refer to “a series of personal links between people across the globe based on the paid or unpaid work of caring”.[1] In this pioneering work, a global care chain was seen to typically involve: “An older daughter from a poor family who cares for her siblings while her mother works as a nanny caring for the children of a migrating nanny who, in turn, cares for the child of a family in a rich country.” [2]

Thus, the global care chain is begun by a woman in a rich, developed country who, having entered the labour force, is unable to fulfil her “domestic duties”. She therefore employs another woman in order to take on the domestic workload. This other woman tends to be from a poorer household and is, more and more frequently, an international migrant. This other woman also, in most cases, has dependent children in her home destination and therefore solicits the help of another woman from an even poorer background, to substitute for her in her domestic duties. Gradually the chain continues and, as we go down it, the value ascribed to the labour decreases and often becomes unpaid at the end of the chain.[3]

Many analysts speak of household internationalisation whereby this trade in domestic labour creates transnational networks between various households and families across the globe.

Typically receiving countries include the United States, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain and Switzerland. The principal sending country is seen to be the Philippines. Others include Sri Lanka, Mexico and Central America to the US, Poland, Albania and Bulgaria to Greece, The Dominican Republic, Peru and Morocco to Spain.


The global care chain is a characteristic of an increasingly globalised world in which demand for migrant workers in developed countries as well as supply of migrants from less developed countries continues to grow.

The underlying causes of this phenomenon include:

  • The entry of women into the labour force in the developed world, resulting in a reduced ability to attend to children and the elderly
  • A lack of family-friendly policies and childcare facilities at places of work makes the demand for at home child carers higher
  • Changes in the family structure
  • The “care deficit”: A shortage of public care services in developed countries
  • Increasing longevity and size of the elderly population in developed countries
  • Growing prosperity in richer countries.[4]


International domestic workers are presented with various personal and social benefits in developed countries. Their wages can be sent back in remittances, not only allowing for improved opportunities for the children left behind, but also often considerably contributing to national economic development. Indeed, for many countries such as the Philippines, the income generated from overseas workers is key to national development.

Nevertheless, the phenomenon of the global care chain also has a potential destabilising effect on the family. Having one parent, or in many cases both, living abroad can have a detrimental effect on the well-being of children left behind, although it has been highlighted that remittance gains have helped improve the education of children left behind. Migration therefore seldom allows for a stable, united family. Scholars often refer to Filipino families as “transnationally split” for example,[5] and underline the increased probability of negative effects on children left behind in the case of an absentee mother.

The feminisation of migration

The international trade in domestic labour must be placed in the context of overall increased international migration and, in particular, of the feminisation of international migration. Now, as women migrate independently and, in many cases, become a household’s principal income earner, scholars talk about the feminisation of migration.[6] Domestic work is one of the largest sectors driving international female labour migration today.[7].

Dr Parvati Raghuram on global care chains:

Listen to the interview:

See also


  1. Hochschild, A. R. (2000) “Global Care Chains and Emotional Surplus Value” in Hutton, W. and Giddens, A. (eds) On The Edge: Living with Global Capitalism, London: Jonathan Cape, p. 131
  2. Ibid.
  3. Yeates, Nicola (2005), “Global Care Chains: a critical introduction”, in Global Migration Perspectives, no. 44, p. 2
  4. Yeates, Nicola (2005), “Global Care Chains: a critical introduction”, in Global Migration Perspectives, no. 44, p. 4
  5. For example, Piper, Nicola (2005), “Gender and Migration”, Global Commission on International Migration
  6. For example, Castles & Miller (2003), The Age of Migration, p.67
  7. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). (2006). UNFPA State of World Population 2006, a Passage to Hope: Women and International Migration. New York. p.25