Intersecting Inequalities in the Paid Care Work Sector Under Changing Social and Economic Contexts
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This dissertation focuses on the expanding paid care work sector as a key terrain for examining labor market inequalities in the United States and China, with three papers attending to different aspects of social stratification. In the U.S., men’s presence in care work jobs remains rare despite the fast job growth in education and health care and the decline in traditionally male-dominated manufacturing sectors. Despite growing public interest, little is known about the reasons and pathways of men’s transition into care work jobs. The popular discourse attributes men’s reluctance to a matter of gender identity, whereas scholars adopting a structural approach argue that men have little incentive to enter care work jobs mainly because those jobs are underpaid. The first paper examines how well the structural and cultural approaches, respectively, explain why men enter care work jobs or not. Moreover, care work jobs have been increasingly polarized in terms of pay and job security since the 1970s, and the polarizing pattern of care work job growth is characterized by racial disparity. Is such pattern driven by racial disparity in education and labor market experience, and/or by racial discrimination? The second paper addresses this question by examining the changing determinants of entering into low-paying versus middle-to-high-paying care work jobs between two cohorts of young men who joined the workforce under different labor market conditions. Findings suggest a persisting logic of a racialized “labor queue” underlying the changing patterns of racial inequality. In the context of urban China, the transformation from a centrally planned socialist economy to a profit-oriented market economy has ended welfare-based, life-long employment in the cities, and fundamentally changed the social organization of care. The third paper examines how care workers fared in terms of earnings relative to non-care workers since the early 2000s and the factors contributing to the earnings disadvantages of care workers. Taken together, this dissertation aims to provide a better understanding of intersecting inequalities by gender, race, and class in the paid care work sector under changing social and economic contexts.