Sara Eldén

Care for children in an era of private sector services: A study of nannies, children and parents.

A new actor has been (re)introduced into family practices in Sweden: the nanny. The Swedish welfare state model is today challenged by a growing private market for childcare, in the form of tax deductible nanny services and au pairs. This project studies the impact of the private childcare market on family practices in Sweden. What are the consequences for the 'doing' of family when elements of childcare can be purchased as services in the private sector? The nanny/au pair profession is situated between the private and the public spheres, comprising a tension between the logic of family/care and the logic of the market. A nanny is also typically subordinate to her employer based on class and sometimes ethnicity. Together, these factors can be assumed to influence not only the nanny's role and relationships in the family, but also parenting practices and ideals, as well as children's views and experiences of care. Through interviews with all three parties - nannies/au pairs, parents and children - the study captures the new patterns, problems and possibilities that private childcare services create in everyday interactions and in the doing of family and care. The private market for child-care services in Sweden is unexplored, which means that the study enables a comparative approach between the Swedish case and international studies. Through its child centred focus, the project further makes a unique contribution to the research field of nannies and global care chains.
Final report

Purpose of the project
During the last decade, Swedish families have started to employ nannies and au pairs to an extent previously never experienced. Political initiatives such as the RUT tax deductions, together with global trends of ‘care chains’, have created a private market for care services. In this study, we have analysed how families ‘do family’ when parts of the care for children are bought as a service on the market. By interviewing all categories of actors – nannies, au pairs, parents and children – and by using innovative methods, the project has made unique contributions to international research debates on global care chains and paid domestic care work. Furthermore, this is the first extensive study internationally to include children’s perspectives on care from nannies and au pairs, and one of few studies that gathers data from several actors involved in the same care practice. It is also an important contribution to family research, where paid domestic care has previously been neglected.

Implementation
A substantive amount of qualitative data has been collected. More than 80 interviews have been carried out; 26 nannies/au pairs, 28 parents, and 19 children have been involved, in several cases in repeated interviews. In order to capture the complexities of care, innovative methods have been used: adult participants have been writing care diaries, and children have been engaged in concentric circle and draw-your-day exercises. We have also interviewed nanny companies, au pair agencies, churches that organize events for au pairs, the Swedish Tax Agency and the Swedish Migration Agency.

Associate professor Sara Eldén (PI) and PhD Terese Anving have collected all the empirical data and published and presented the research in different fora.  

Results
A significant result is the analysis of the complexities and problematics of care work. The starting point for the actual practice of nanny and au pair care is that care can be divided: that some parts can be outsourced to a paid domestic care worker, while others can be kept by the parents. The parents in this study reproduce understandings of care work as simple and well defined, which can be contrasted to the nannies’, au pairs’ and children’s narratives about everyday care practices as complex, and often quite demanding. What is rarely acknowledged by the involved parties are the ‘emotional activities’ within everyday care doings, necessary to make a care situation work. In this sense, the nanny becomes the ‘invisible glue’ of the family, who through her complex doings of care makes the everyday run smoothly.

The study also shows that the growing market and acceptance for private domestic services lead to new forms of inequalities, within and between families. The inequalities within families are related to the ‘doings of family’ that the nanny/au pair engage in. These are the same kinds of doings traditionally carried out by women in families, but now, done by an actor even more invisible due to her subordinate position related to gender, age, class, and in many cases also ethnicity/migratory position. Seen from the outside, the families are able to live up to an ideal of gender equality, as the hiring of nannies and au pairs make possible a dual earner ideal, and also an ideal of parenting without stress. In this way, inequalities between families are reproduced, as the realizing of ideals of gender equality and ‘good parenthood’ become dependent on financial resources and social class.

Another important contribution of the study is the inclusion of children’s narratives of being cared for by nannies and au pairs. The children’s narratives clearly show that they expect the care they receive to be emotional and reciprocal doings. Their narratives have been crucial in capturing the discrepancy mentioned above, between expectations on care on the one hand, and experiences of being in the actual care situation on the other.  Children show that they understand why their parents hire nannies and au pairs to take care of them, but are also critical, not least in cases where they have had many nannies/au pairs. Break-ups are experienced as emotionally demanding and often result in children trying to avoid becoming close to new nannies/au pairs.

New research questions generated
Through our international research networks, we have identified the need of comparisons between the Swedish case and the private childcare market in other countries. We have initiated a collaboration with Nordic and Eastern European scholars doing research on care and welfare state changes, resulting in a forthcoming special issue (Journal of European Social Policy, ed. Lena Näre and Lise Widding Isaksen), and also plan for a future more comprehensive comparative study.

We have also identified the need to study other kinds of invisible care practices, such as intergenerational care between grandparents, their children and grandchildren, a form of care that is often both unpaid and taken for granted. In Sweden qualitative studies of the importance of intergenerational care is missing, and also – in Sweden as well as internationally – studies that start out from a children’s perspective and include minors’ experiences and understandings of grandparental care. This lack of knowledge has resulted in the research proposal ‘Intergenerational care in Sweden. A study of relationships, commitments, and doings of care in everyday family life’ (submitted).

Finally, from a methodological point of view, we have identified a need to further develop practice-oriented methods, tuned in on capturing the everyday. We particularly see a potential of the biographical approach, especially in developing methods for doing research with children. This is an ongoing project together with PhD Hayley Davies (University of Leeds, UK).

International dimensions
The project has generated extensive international interest and we have several international research collaborations. During the project we have taken part in initiating and establishing the cross disciplinary family research network ‘Significant others: Nordic studies in Family and Personal Life’ (2016-00258/NOS-HS); we have also been active in establishing the Nordic and Eastern European network ‘North East Care Chains’; we are part of the European network ‘Research Network for Domestic Workers Rights’; and the Forte funded ‘Swedish Network for Family and Kinship studies’.

We have presented the project at several international conferences, and we have been invited speakers at the Department of Sociology University of Copenhagen, School of Education University of Leeds, School of Education University of Huddersfield, as well as a number of Swedish research departments with international reputation (see list of publications).

Eldén was a guest researcher at School of Education, University of Leeds, Aug-Sept 2017, where she collaborated with Hayley Davies. In addition, Hayley Davies (fall 2016) and Lena Näre, University of Helsinki (spring 2017) have been visiting researchers at the Department of Sociology, Lund University. These visits have resulted in two forthcoming publications both relating to the research project (Davies & Eldén; Näre, Wide, Eldén & Anving).

Dissemination of results
The analysis of the extensive and unique data has generated a number of publications, and several are currently in the pipeline. In January 2017 we signed a contract with Policy Press (Bristol University Press) and in June 2018 we sent in the manuscript for the monograph ‘Nanny families: Practices of care by nannies, au pairs, parents and children in Sweden’ (to be published spring 2019). In the book we analyse data from all three categories involved in the doing of nanny-care: nannies/au pairs, parents and children. The analysis is centred around the concept of care, drawing on and further contributing to, previous feminist research on emotional doings of care (DeVault, 1991; Mason, 1996). We also argue for the need to re-evaluate the understanding of ‘care’ and ‘ family’ in the field of global care chain research (Andersson, 2000; Hochschild & Ehrenreich, 2002).

So far, we have published two peer-reviewed journal articles based on the project, ‘New ways of doing the “good” and gender equal family: Parents employing nannies and au-pairs in Sweden’ (2016, Sociological Research Online), which focuses on parents’ talk about and legitimation of the buying of these services. In the article ‘Precarious care labor: Contradicting working regulations and practices for au pairs in Sweden’ (2016, Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies), we discuss previously unidentified incongruities in the regulations for au pair work in Sweden, with consequences for working situations. Yet another article ‘Nanny care in Sweden: The inequalities of everyday doings of care’ has been sent to Journal of European Social Policy (June 2018). In this, we discuss different ways in which inequalities are reproduced within and between families, through the buying of care services.

During autumn 2018 we will finalize three articles, one focusing on practices of parenting, one on children’s perspectives of nanny and au pair care, and one on methods and studies of family practices. We will also co-write a comparative Swedish-Finnish article on parents hiring nannies and au pairs together with Lena Näre and Elisabeth Wide (University of Helsinki).

The interest for this research project extends beyond academia and we have presented the project at the Feminist Festival of Malmö, public research talk organized by Fronesis in Göteborg, at the Swedish Labour Movement’s Archives and Library in Stockholm, in the Antiracist film festival in Malmö, and at Folkuniversitetet in Helsingborg. We have also been interviewed by media.

Publication list

Monografier:
Eldén, Sara and Anving, Terese (kommande 2019, kontrakterad bok) ”Nanny families: Practices of care by nannies, au pairs, parents and children in Sweden” Bristol: Policy Press (Bristol University Press)


Vetenskapliga artiklar:
Eldén Sara & Anving Terese (inskickad) “Nanny care in Sweden: The inequalities of everyday doings of care” Inskickad till Journal of European Social Policy.

Eldén Sara & Anving Terese (2016) “New ways of doing the ’good’ and gender equal family: Parents employing nannies and au pairs in Sweden,” Sociological Research Online, 21(4), 2
DOI: 10.5153/sro.4163 (OA)

Eldén Sara & Anving Terese (2016) “Precarious care labor: Contradictory work regulations and practices for au pairs in Sweden” Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies 6(4): 29-48
DOI: https://doi.org/10.19154/njwls.v6i4.5611 (OA)


Konferenspresentationer:
Eldén Sara & Anving Terese (2018) “Doing 'Good' and Gender Equal Family: Employing Nannies and Au Pairs in Sweden” (Symposia “Elite families in Scandinavia” Chairs: Dil Bach, Aarhus University, Denmark & Charlotte Faircloth, University of Kent, UK) 9th Congress of the European Society on Family Relations, Families through the lens of diversity, Porto 5-8 september 2018.

Anving Terese & Eldén Sara (2018) ”Nanny care in Sweden: Inequalities of everyday doings of care”, 9th Congress of the European Society on Family Relations, Families through the lens of diversity, Porto 5-8 september 2018.

Davies, Hayley & Eldén Sara (2018) “Researching materiality and children’s biographies”, 9th Congress of the European Society on Family Relations, Families through the lens of diversity, Porto 5-8 september 2018.

Eldén Sara & Anving Terese (2018) “Caring complexities: care situations and ambivalent expectations” Significant others, Oslo 25-26 april 2018.

Eldén Sara & Anving Terese (2018) “Nanny care in Sweden: Inequalities of everyday doings of care”, Sociologidagarna, Lund 7-9 mars 2018.

Eldén Sara & Anving Terese (2017) “Invisible family doings. Using the conceptual framework of family practices in researching nanny-families in Sweden”, NOS-HS Significant others Lund 23-24 oktober 2017.

Eldén Sara & Anving Terese (2017) “Capturing care: Methods for getting into everyday practices and relationships”, NOS-HS Significant others Köpenhamn 27-28 april 2017.

Eldén Sara & Anving Terese (2016) “Doing good nanny care: Nannies, au pairs, parents and children in Sweden”, NSA Knowledge-Making Practices and Sociology’s Global Challenge, Helsinki 11-13 augusti 2016.

Anving & Eldén (2016) “Precarious Care Labour: Au pairs in Sweden”, NSA Knowledge-Making Practices and Sociology’s Global Challenge, Helsinki 11-13 augusti 2016.

Eldén Sara & Anving Terese (2016) “Doing good nanny care: Nannies, au pairs, parents and children in Sweden”, Centre for Research on Families & Relationships International Conference: Unequal Families & Relationships, Edinburgh 13-15 juni 2016.

Eldén Sara & Anving Terese (2016) “New ways of doing (the gender equal and good) family. Nannies, au pairs and parents in Sweden”, Sociologidagarna, Uppsala 10-12 mars 2016.

Anving Terese & Eldén Sara (2016) ”Precarious Labour: Au pairs in Sweden”, Sociologidagarna, Uppsala 10-12 mars 2016.

Eldén Sara & Anving Terese (2016) “New ways of doing (the gender equal and good) family: nannies, au pairs and parents in Sweden”. ESA Differences, Inequalities and Sociological Imagination, Prag 25-28 augusti 2015.

Eldén Sara & Anving Terese (2015) “Nannies and au-pairs in Sweden: The privatized child care market”, NSA Exploring blind spots, Lund 14-16 augusti 2014.


Inbjudna föredrag:
Tema Barn Linköpings universitet, 7 november 2017:
“Caring complexities: Au pairs, nannies, parents and children in Sweden”

Högre allmänna seminariet i sociologi, Institutionen för samhällsstudier, Linnéuniversitetet 5 oktober 2017: “Precarious Care: Contradictory work regulations and practices for au pairs in Sweden”

Childhood Studies, School of Education, University of Leeds, 26 september 2017:
“Caring complexities: Theories and methods for researching children and care”

School of Education, University of Huddersfield 20 september 2017:
”Capturing care: Methods for getting into everyday practices and relationships”

Genusvetenskapliga institutionens högre seminarium, Lunds universitet, 5 april 2017:
“Doing good nanny care: Nannies, au pairs, parents and children in Sweden”

Sociologiskt institut Köpenhamns universitet 22 november 2016:
“Good nanny care? Au pairs, nannies, parents and children in Sweden.”

Seminariet för Föräldraskap, barn och ungdom i moderna familjekulturer, Socialhögskolan Göteborgs universitet, 9 november 2016:
”Omsorgsgörande från barns perspektiv.”

Familjeseminariet, Institutionen för humaniora, utbildnings- och samhällsvetenskap Örebro universitet, 20 maj 2015:
”Omsorg om barn i de köpta barnpassningstjänsternas tidevarv: En studie av barnflickor, barn och föräldrar”

Högre allmänna seminariet i sociologi, Institutionen för samhällsstudier, Linnéuniversitetet 13 november 2014:
”Omsorg om barn i de köpta barnpassningstjänsternas tidevarv: En studie av barnflickor, barn och föräldrar.”


Populärvetenskapliga presentationer:

Folkuniversitetets Kunskapsklubben på Helsingborgs stadsteater 2 oktober 2017: ”Att sörja för de sina i en nyliberal tid”

Panelsamtal, Relationsinstitutet, Inkonst, 14 december 2016.

Antirasistiska filmdagar, Malmö, 15 november 2016: ”Nannys och au pairer i dagens Sverige”

Forskning Arbetarrörelsens arkiv och bibliotek forskarstafett, Stockholm, 12 november 2016: ”Nannys och au pairer på Sveriges nya privatiserade barnomsorgsmarknad”

Forskarsamtal ”Familjen och nyliberalismen”, ABF Göteborg i samarbete med Fronesis Göteborg, 2 oktober 2016.

Paneldebatt ”Samtal om det obetalda arbetet: familjen i en nyliberal kontext”, Feministisk Festival Malmö (arrangör tidskriften Fronesis) 13 juni 2015.

Grant administrator
Lunds universitet
Reference number
P13-0603:1
Amount
SEK 4,468,150.00
Funding
Projects
Subject
Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
Year
2013