Gender, work and the care economy

Researchers: Adjunct Professor Rhonda Sharp and Dr Valerie Adams

care in a nursing homeCollaborations: Assoc Prof Siobhan Austen and Dr Therese Jefferson, Women's Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER), Curtin University of Technology, Perth, WA
Adjunct Assoc Prof Ray Broomhill, Australian Workplace Innovation and Social Research Centre, University of Adelaide

This program comprises a series of projects that focus on the paid and unpaid work undertaken in meeting the needs of those who need care from birth to old age, the gendered nature of care work and the role of policy in its support and recognition and in promoting a more equal gender order. The research utilises a feminist economics perspective that understands care workers as productive, embodied and in relation to those for whom they provide care. Moreover there are important relationships and interdependences between care activities, markets, households and the public sector. This research invokes the notion of the 'care economy' to challenge us to re-vision the 'economy' as a social institution that has as its central goal provisioning for human needs on a socially just and sustainable basis.


Missing workers: retaining mature-age women workers to ensure future labour security

ARC Discovery project

A/Prof Siobhan Austen, Dr Rachel Ong, Dr Therese Jefferson, Prof Gill Lewin, Prof Rhonda Sharp and Dr Valerie Adams

This project aims to provide a detailed understanding of the factors that promote or hinder mature-age women's retention in paid work. Drawing on emerging themes in feminist economics, the project will contribute a new model of employment decision making by mature-age women. It will also generate an innovative database that will allow international comparisons of the factors affecting the retention of mature-age women in paid work. Women aged 45+ are a crucial component of Australia's future labour supply. An understanding of the barriers to their retention in the workforce is necessary for the development of policy to ensure that critical community needs, such as aged care, can be met.

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Conference presentations (abstract refereed)

Lewin, Gill, Austen, Siobhan, Jefferson, Therese, Ong, Rachel, Sharp, Rhonda and Adams, Valerie (2013) ‘Mature aged workers’ intention to leave aged care’, Australian Association of Gerontology 46th National Conference Grey Expectations: Ageing in the 21st Century, Sydney, 17–29 November.

Austen, Siobhan, Lewin, Gill, Jefferson, Therese, Ong, Rachel, Sharp, Rhonda and Adams, Valerie (2013) ‘The physical demands of aged care work and workers’ intention to leave’, Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) Conference Talkin’ About Your Generation, Perth, 9–10 May.

Jefferson, Therese, Austen, Siobhan, Sharp, Rhonda, Ong, Rachel, Lewin, Gill and Adams, Valerie (2013) 'Planning and implementing a mixed methods research project: a study of aged care workers' employment retention', Association of Industrial Relations Academics of Australia and New Zealand (AIRAANZ) 27th Conference Work, Employment and Employment Relations in an Uneven Patchwork World, Fremantle, WA, 6–8 February.

Lewin, Gill, Austen, Siobhan, Jefferson, Therese, Ong, Rachel and Sharp, Rhonda (2012) ‘Mature age workers’ intention to leave aged care’, Australian Association of Gerontology 45th National Conference Ageing: Challenging the Boundaries, Brisbane, 21–23 November.

Discussion papers and submissions

Austen, Siobhan, Jefferson, Therese, Lewin, Gill, Ong, Rachael, Sharp, Rhonda and Adams, Valerie (2012) Submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry ‘Grey Areas – Age Barriers to Work in Commonwealth Laws’, 30 November.

The role of reciprocity in nurses' work

Dr Valerie Adams and Prof Rhonda Sharp

Feminist economists have identified reciprocity as a motivation for caring work. By drawing on academic nursing literature and qualitative studies conducted by the researchers in residential aged care, this ongoing project has identified 'professional reciprocity', which involves deliberate relational work by nurses with care recipients so that the wellbeing and health goals of both are promoted. Professional work is important to achieve quality care and care workers' satisfaction.


Adams, Valerie and Rhonda Sharp (2013) 'Reciprocity in caring labour: nurses' work in residential aged care in Australia', Feminist Economics, 19(1), 100–121.

Adams, Valerie and Rhonda Sharp (2011) 'Reciprocity: the case of aged care nurses' work' in L Chester, M Johnson and P Kriesler (eds) Conference Proceedings: 10th Australian Society of Heterodox Economists Conference: Heterodox Economics: Ten Years and Growing Stronger!, Sydney, pp 1–14.

Scoping the Australian care economy: a gender equity perspective

Research commissioned by economic Security4Women, one of six national women's alliances funded by the Australian government's Office for Women.
Chief researcher: Dr Valerie Adams. Project Advisors: Prof Rhonda Sharp and Elaine Butler.

The notion of the 'care economy' has arisen from feminist critiques of mainstream economics which traditionally only considered goods and services produced in the market economy as 'productive'. Looking at care work as an economic activity is a way of making women's work visible so that it can be valued. This project:

  • examined the concept of the care economy
  • identified issues relevant to paid and unpaid care
  • outlined public policies that provide government support to the care economy
  • analysed the impact of the care economy on women's economic wellbeing
  • examined recent statistics on the Australian care economy, and
  • identified gaps on the literature and areas for further research.


Adams, Valerie (2010) Scoping the Australian care economy, Security4Women, Canberra.

Further information: economic Security4Women

Restructuring the male breadwinner model? New challenges for a rapidly changing Australia

An ARC Discovery project and other related projects
Prof Rhonda Sharp and A/Prof Ray Broomhill

This research investigates changes to the Australian male breadwinner gender order in the key spheres of the labour market, household and policy by combining quantitative and qualitative research methods with theoretical and policy analysis. Australia's postwar prosperity was underpinned by a male breadwinner model that, though problematic, provided a stable gender order for social reproduction. These gender arrangements have undergone dramatic changes, raising concerns about work–life balance, care provisioning, fertility rates and social cohesiveness. The impact of these changes are vital policy issues.


Broomhill, Ray and Rhonda Sharp (2012) Australia's parental leave policy and gender equality: an international comparison, Australian Workplace Innovation and Social Research Centre, University of Adelaide, Adelaide.

Sharp, Rhonda, Broomhill, Ray and Elton, Jude (2012) 'Modern' Labor and the Fair Work Act 2009: challenging the male breadwinner gender order? Australian Workplace Innovation and Social Research Centre, University of Adelaide, Adelaide. Available at South Australian Policy Online

Sharp, Rhonda (2009) 'The super revolution' in B Comber, A Mackinnon and G Bloustien (eds) The Hawke legacy, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, pp 198–211.

Sharp, Rhonda and Broomhill, Ray (2009) 'Gender policy: towards gender-responsive policies and budgets in South Australia' in J Spoehr (ed) State of South Australia: from crisis to prosperity, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, pp 152–176.

Broomhill, Ray and Sharp, Rhonda (2007) 'Gender and restructuring in Australia' in M Griffin-Cohen and J Brodie (eds) Globalisation and remapping gender in semi peripheral countries, Routledge, London, pp 85–108.

Austen, Siobhan, Jefferson, Therese and Sharp, Rhonda (2007) 'Communicating the gendered impact of economic policies', Dialogue, No 26/1.

Sharp, Rhonda and Austin, Siobhan (2007) 'The 2006 federal budget: a gender analysis of the superannuation taxation concessions', Australian Journal of Labour Economics, 10(2), pp 61–77.

Broomhill, Ray and Sharp, Rhonda (2006) 'A new gender (dis)order? Global restructuring and the gender contract in Australia' in G Laxer and D Soron (eds) Decommodifying public life, Broadview, Toronto, pp 127–140.

Areas of study and research

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