As an Equal?

Au Pairing in the 21st Century

Rosie Cox and Nicky Busch


A detailed examination into the lives of au pairs and the families who host them in contemporary Britain, exploring the increased reliance on an exploited workforce under austerity and the position of women within the neoliberal economy.

Au pairs are relied upon by tens of thousands of UK families to do everything from childcare and housework to elder care, pet feeding and waiting at dinner parties. Traditionally thought of as privileged and well-educated young women having fun on a 'gap year' abroad, au pairs have been excluded from many of the recent discussions on migrant domestic labour. However, since 2008 au pairing has been effectively unregulated in the UK and the result is that au pairs now constitute one of the poorest paid and least protected groups of workers.

Through an examination of lived experiences, As an Equal? draws on detailed research to examine au pairs and the families who host them in contemporary Britain, revealing au pairing to have become increasingly indistinguishable from other forms of domestic labour. Crucially, hosting an au pair is shown to form part of families' attempts to provide good (enough) childcare in the context of extended working hours and poor public childcare provision. This increased reliance of families on an exploited workforce is shown to form part of the wider political climate of economic austerity, and raises profound questions about the position of women within the neoliberal economy.

Author Bio

Rosie Cox is Professor of Geography at Birkbeck, University of London. She has been researching au pairs and other forms of paid domestic labour in the UK for nearly 20 years. She is the author of The Servant Problem: Domestic Employment in a Global Economy (2006), coeditor of Dirt: New Geographies of Cleanliness and Contamination (2007), co-author of Reconnecting Consumers, Producers and Food: Exploring Alternatives (2008), Dirt: The Filthy Reality of Everyday Life (2011) and editor of Au Pairs' Lives in Global Context (2015).

Nicky Busch is an academic and author with a particular interest in gender, care and domestic work and migration. She lives in London.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • 1. A Short History of Au Pairing
  • 2. Invisible Work and Hidden Inequalities: Gender, Class and Nationality in Au Pairing
  • 3. The Twenty-First-Century Growth in Demand for Domestic Labour
  • 4. What is an Au Pair?
  • 5. Au Pairs and Hosts in Cyber Space
  • 6. The Life and Times of Au Pairs
  • 7. Good Workers? Good Parents? Good Hosts?
  • Conclusion


‘This ground-breaking book exposes the economic and political forces that shape our homes and the work that goes on inside them.’
Bridget Anderson, University of Bristol

‘In the first large-scale investigation of a largely hidden world, the authors provide an incisive account of the lived experiences of au pairs and their host families, showing how au pairing has become an integral part of austerity Britain.’
Majella Kilkey, University of Sheffield

‘This informative and incisive study reveals the relations of care, inter-dependence, affection and exploitation as young women from Europe “help” more affluent women. The authors provide an indisputable case for reform.’
Linda McDowell, Oxford University (Emerita)

‘A revelatory study. This is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the conundrums and inequalities framing the global crisis of work and care.’
Mary Romero, author of The Maid’s Daughter: Living Inside and Outside the American Dream

‘Fills an important lacuna in the area of transnational migrant domestic and care work. A must read for students and scholars of care work in the age of neoliberal care regimes.’
Helma Lutz, author of The New Maids

‘A very important contribution to understanding current variations of domestic labour. Brilliantly places the phenomenon of au pairing both in a historical context and in the present-day neoliberal reality of the UK.’
Helle Stenum, Roskilde University

‘Brimming with insights, this book challenges the stereotype of the au pair as an equal member of a “traditional” English family. The authors expose the problematic nature of au pairing at a time of deregulation and hidden exploitation.’
Helen Jarvis, Newcastle University

‘A much needed account of the reality of au pairing, which also poignantly illustrates how intersectional inequalities are produced in today’s Europe. An insightful read for all social scientists.’
Sabrina Marchetti, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice

‘Using the voices of both au pairs and their hosts, the book expertly demonstrates how the historical context and structural inequalities which frame au pairing influence the lived experiences of au pairs in the UK.’
Zuzana Sekeráková Búriková, Masaryk University


Publication Date: 15 November 2018
208 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781783604975
Hardback: 9781783604982
eBook ePub: 9781783605002
eBook PDF: 9781783604999
eBook Kindle: 9781783605019

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