The changing boundary between home and market: Australian trends in outsourcing domestic labour

Michael Bittman*, George Matheson, Gabrielle Meagher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


It is widely believed that domestic outsourcing is booming. Many believe the growth of market services is a response to increasing time pressures arising from new responsibilities in the paid workforce, and to an inflexible sexual division of labour at home. The interpretation of the consequences of the purported growth of domestic outsourcing has been both divided and extreme. Paid domestic services have been declared: (1) a thing of the pre-industrial past (Coser 1973); (2) a victim of self-servicing (Gershuny 1983); and (3) the last frontier in the continuing advance of the market in post-industrial society (Ruthven 1994). Consequently, the alleged boom in outsourcing has been viewed either as the resurgence of a pre-modern form of the exploitation of labour (possibly based on race or ethnicity), heralding a deeper and more intractable form of social stratification (Arat-Koç 1989; Glenn 1992; Gorz 1994; Gregson and Lowe 1994; Probert 1997; Romero 1992), or as the future engine of opportunity (Ruthven 1997). Unfortunately all this discussion has run ahead of the facts. Two areas of research are vital - one is a study of the demand for outsourced domestic goods and services, and the other is wide-ranging comparative study of the labour relations in the domestic outsourcing industry. This paper addresses the first of these areas. It describes a study of trends in expenditure on domestic outsourcing drawing on an analysis of Australian Household Expenditure Surveys 1984-1993/4. This information is then interpreted in the light of our knowledge of trends in time use over the same period.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-273
Number of pages25
JournalWork, Employment & Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1999
Externally publishedYes


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