Role of immigrant women in the domestic services sector

The legalisation of immigrants working in domestic services is leading to an increase in the number of contributors to the home workers’ social security system. At the same time, the greater participation of middle-class Spanish women in the labour market has resulted in an increase in employment of immigrant women in domestic services.

Context

Figures from the 2005 Survey of the Active Population, conducted by the National Institute of Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Estadística, INE), show that more than half of the women who work in domestic services are non-Spanish citizens. In 2005, some 682,882 people worked in domestic services, 90% of whom were women. Women’s participation in domestic services has been increasing since 1994, at a higher rate than women’s participation in other sectors. The reasons for this growth are related to social changes, particularly the ageing population, which has led to an increase in dependency and, as a result, to a greater demand for social services previously provided by relatives, mainly women. Due to the large-scale integration of women in the labour market, care services now represent a major challenge for the public authorities, as is reflected in the draft legislation, the Dependent Care Law.

At present, domestic tasks such as caring for children, elderly and dependent persons are still performed by relatives, mainly women. However, an increasing number of families are requesting outside help for these tasks, which is leading to a progressive growth in demand for domestic services. On the supply side, the increasing presence of immigrant women in the labour market is also fuelling this demand. Thus, the greater demand for services, along with the legalisation of immigrants in domestic services, explain the increase in the number of non-national domestic workers.

Employment of immigrants by sector

The Survey of the Active Population provides information on the employment of immigrant workers in the different sectors in Spain. The most striking finding in this respect is that 52.2% of women and 22.3% of men working in domestic services in Spain are immigrant workers, whereas, in the general workforce, immigrants represent 11.8% and 10.2% of the working population, respectively.

Thus, by sectors of activity, the employment of immigrants is highest in the domestic services sector; this is followed, although at a considerably lower percentage, by hotels and catering, the wood and cork industry, construction, mining, agriculture, real estate and recycling (see Table 1).

Table 1: Employment of immigrants, by sector, 2005
Employment of immigrants, by sector, 2005
Sector % of immigrants
Domestic services 49.6
Hotels and catering 23.7
Wood and cork industry 19.4
Construction 17.9
Mining of non-metal and non-energy minerals 17.0
Agriculture and fisheries 14.2
Real estate 12.5
Recycling 12.3
Total 10.8

Source: INE, Survey of the Active Population, 2005

Socio-demographic profile

Immigrant workers employed in Spain’s domestic services sector are mainly from South America, and are attracted to the country because of the common language and culture. Immigrants from Ecuador and Colombia represent 31.5% and 12.7%, respectively, of domestic workers. However, immigrants from eastern European countries, such as Romania (14.5%), are also represented in the sector.

The socio-demographic characteristics of Spanish and immigrant female domestic workers differ greatly (see Table 2). Immigrant women working as domestic workers show higher levels of education compared with their Spanish counterparts. As many as 11.1% of the immigrant women working in this sector have a university education, compared with only 2.5% of the Spanish women. The average age of immigrant domestic workers is lower, at 35 years, compared with 43 years for Spanish women. At the same time, the percentage of single immigrant women in the sector is also higher than that of Spanish women.

Table 2: Socio-demographic characteristics of Spanish and immigrant female domestic workers, second quarter of 2005 (%)
Socio-demographic characteristics of Spanish and immigrant female domestic workers, second quarter of 2005 (%)
. Age   Spanish women Immigrant women
16–24 years 7.1 14.4
25–29 years 8.9 17.9
30–39 years 22.2 34.6
40–49 years 29.3 23.2
50–64 years 30.5 9.9
Over 65 years 1.9 0
Level of education Primary 37.2 23.4
Secondary 60.2 65.5
University 2.5 11.1
Marital status Single 24.2 37.7
Married 59.0 52.8
Widowed 6.2 1.9
Separated 10.5 7.6

Source: INE, Survey of the Active Population, 2005

Commentary

In conclusion, immigrant women working in domestic services are helping to renew the supply of labour increasingly being demanded in Spain, particularly by the middle classes. At the same time, the greater integration of middle-class women into the labour market and in professional activities is also driving the increasing participation of immigrant workers in the domestic services sector, which employs a workforce of 710,000 people. Of these, some 460,000 people work 72 hours a month, which is the bottom threshold for compulsory contribution to the home workers’ social security system. The proportion of informal employment in the sector currently stands at about 10%, although the legalisation of immigrant workers in 2005 has helped to reduce the level of informal employment. Altogether, some 184,000 immigrant women are registered on the home workers’ social security system, representing 33% of the total number registered.

Antonio Martín Artiles, QUIT-UAB

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