Servants and feminism

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at
Wed Dec 2 13:58:45 PST 1998

-----Original Message----- From: joshua william mason <jwm7 at> To: lbo-talk at <lbo-talk at>

>Are you sitting down, Nathan?
>personal service (as a % of total nonfarm employment)
>1960 1.5
>1970 1.3
>1980 .9
>1990 1.0
>1998 .9

Now, I'd be interested to have "personal service" separated out, since these employment numbers are notoriously hard to pin down (such as the drop in manufacturing is partially related to the shifting of previously in-house service employment, counted as manufacturing, to specific service companies, now counted in services).

For example, does a cleaning service that hires people, then contract them for a few hours per week to various homes, count as "personal service" in the above numbers, or does it only count people employed directly by households? Does all day care count, or only au pairs hired for a single family? A friend of mine used to do day care for multiple families and shifted where he did it on different days, so I wonder how he would count?

Of course, my friend was working off the books, so he would not show up in official numbers, as would much of personal services today. There is probably a high number of people working in house cleaning and other domestic work who never are reported to the IRS or other employment agencies, so I actually wonder how seriously to take the above numbers at all.

While there was no doubt a drop-off of direct personal servants in most of the country (especially in the South as black domestic help became less pervasive), it seems relatively clear that there has been a large increase in general home-based services that are part-time across multiple homes. Day care is the largest segment of this, but cleaning help and other more particular services also come under this.

There is the possibility that the whole sense of the expansion of servant help is an illusion, but hard data numbers won't settle the issue, I'm, afraid.

--Nathan Newman

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