How caring contradicts with individual narratives under capitalism – Part 2 of 3

As mentioned in my previous article, care is fundamental to survival but often a rare luxury when repaid in these modern times. Care is now a valuable commodity; needed by all but affordable to so few. This article aims to illustrate how care expends money, time and emotional energy, which directly opposes the demanding nature of capitalism. The prioritisation of the individual can explain why caring roles are undervalued, as well as the economic disadvantage carers face by doing their job. Late modernity within capitalism sees the struggle between personal narratives and grand narratives (Pickard, 2010). Since capitalism sells the dream that anyone can succeed with enough hard work and personal drive, it is no surprise that the glorification of the individual’s narrative has taken the forefront whilst ‘community’ has descended into egoism and greed (Ehrenreich, 2016). Instead, individual narratives focus on the capacity for self-actualisation, personal fulfilment and individualisation (Pickard, 2010). Care requires individuals to be innately selfless and to give up their time to help others, but the high-speed mentality of capitalism and the protection of the free market sees people and services become commodified under a survival of the fittest mentality (Livnat and Villa Braslavsky, 2020). This is obvious now as 13,000 medically fit people have yet to be discharged from the NHS because of the lack of social care for these patients post-discharge (Nevett and Trigge, 2023). This could potentially be fixed if families and communities were more willing to care for these patients, rather than relying on externalised professional social care.

In the nineteenth century, the concept of care began to change. It became privatised and commodified with the birth of nursing as a profession (Kitson et al., 2021) which also coincided with the beginning of the industrial revolution. Care shifted from the duty of the community and instead became an exchangeable commodity, bought by the bourgeoise and sold to the proletariat at a very low wage (Livnat and Villa Braslavsky, 2020). The laws of supply and demand are written by neoclassical economics. The more a job is needed, the higher the pay will be (Barron and West, 2011) yet despite the current caring crisis, recent reports have shown that half of care workers could earn more money in a supermarket than in their caring position (The Guardian, 2022). Reasons for this vary.

Firstly, those who need care the most are often the people that lack economic capital and sufficient funds to afford to pay carers a higher wage (Pickard, 2010) such as children, the elderly and those unemployed because of their health condition. Secondly, carers lack human capital since caring is often an entry-level job that requires less advanced qualifications and training (England and Folbre, 1999). The longer spent in university obtaining qualifications normally correlates with the wage received (Barron and West, 2011) but because carers are in such urgent supply, the barriers for entry to employment are removed and many people are accepted with fewer qualifications in order to hold back the tsunami of care requirements within a broken social care system. Thirdly, the emotion of love cannot be untangled from the concept of care (Twigg, 2000) which is why people are reluctant to give it a price tag since love is sacred (England and Folbre, 1999) and a heart-warming concept (Fine and Glendinning, 2005). For the majority of female carers, these are not the only disadvantages they will face. An Age UK study found that women who care for relatives as well as raise a family do over 35 hours of care a week, and 49% of those women are also juggling paid work (Age UK, 2019). This has only become worse during the current cost of living crisis with 39% of carers struggling to make ends meet and 16% living in debt (CarersUK, 2022). Feminist scholars call this juggle of care, family and paid work, the “second shift”. The second shift is a term coined by Hochschild and Machung (2003) to illustrate the inequalities women face in the amount of labour they undertake in both professional and domestic work; women are only paid for the former because domestic work is classified as ‘women’s work’. This can also be applied to those women who pull professional, domestic and caring shifts, which leads to incredible amounts of burnout compared to their male counterparts who may only be doing one or two shifts. In a culture that encourages self-interested calculation, the number of women who choose to enter caring occupations will probably decline (England and Folbre, 1999), since it is such an unappealing job. Capitalism inherently promotes individualism and self-interest to promote the free market economy, which is simply incompatible with fulfilling the needs of an aging population in need of care. As thousands of workers in the healthcare sector continue to strike for fair pay and working conditions (BBC News, 2023) hopefully the government can acknowledge the true weight and importance these roles play in society and can compensate them appropriately.

Age UK (2019). Carers at breaking point: The social care burden on women. [online] Age UK. [Accessed 13 Jan. 2023].
BBC News (2023). Nurses’ strike: What is the dispute about? BBC News. [online] 2 Winter. [Accessed 2 Mar. 2023].
Barron, D.N. and West, E. (2011). The Financial Costs of Caring in the British Labour Market: Is There a Wage Penalty for Workers in Caring Occupations? British Journal of Industrial Relations, [online] 51(1), pp.104–123.
CarersUK (2022). Heading for crisis: Caught between caring and rising costs. [online], pp.1–10. [Accessed 2 Mar. 2023].
Ehrenreich, J. (2016). Third Wave Capitalism How Money, Power, and the Pursuit of Self-Interest Have Imperiled the American Dream. 1st ed. [online] Ithaca: Cornell University Press. [Accessed 11 Jan. 2023].
England, P. and Folbre, N. (1999). The Cost of Caring. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, [online] 561, pp.39–51. [Accessed 10 Jan. 2023].
Fine, M. and Glendinning, C. (2005). Dependence, independence or inter-dependence? Revisiting the concepts of ‘care’ and ‘dependency’. Ageing and Society, [online] 25(4), pp.601–621.
Hochschild, A.R. and Machung, A. (2003). The second shift. New York: Penguin Books.
Kitson, A., Feo, R., Lawless, M., Arciuli, J., Clark, R., Golley, R., Lange, B., Ratcliffe, J. and Robinson, S. (2021). Towards a unifying caring life‐course theory for better self‐care and caring solutions: A discussion paper. Journal of Advanced Nursing, [online] 78(1), pp.6–20.
Livnat, I. and Villa Braslavsky, P. (2020). Who takes care of ‘care’?. Gender, Work & Organization, [online] 27(2), pp.270–277.
Nevett, J. and Trigge, N. (2023). NHS to buy care beds to make space in hospitals. BBC News. [online] 9 Jan. [Accessed 10 Jan. 2023].
Pickard, S. (2010). The ‘Good Carer’: Moral Practices in Late Modernity. Sociology, [online] 44(3), pp.471–487.
The Guardian (2022). Care work has been undervalued for years. Now we see the consequences | Letters. [online] The Guardian. [Accessed 11 Jan. 2023].
Twigg, J. (2000). Bathing – the Body and Community Care. 1st ed. [online] London: Taylor & Francis Group. [Accessed 8 Jan. 2023].


Melissa Brodie is a third year Sociology student at the University of Liverpool, finding interests in health and lifecourse, digital studies and feminism. She has thrown herself into everything university life has to offer from playing the alto saxophone in two bands to being the personal relations and charities representative of the Liverpool University Royal Naval Unit. Her family have inspired this piece and continue to support her academic journey.  Melissa Brodie | LinkedIn