A feminist phenomenology on the emotional labor and morality of live-in migrant care workers caring for older people in the community

Ken H.M. Ho, Vico C.L. Chiang, Doris Leung, Daphne S.K. Cheung

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Global societal changes, such as increasing longevity and a shortage of family caregivers, have given rise to a popular worldwide trend of employing live-in migrant care workers (MCWs) to provide homecare for older people. However, the emotional labor and morality inherent in their interactions with older people are largely unknown. The aim of the present study is to understand the corporeal experiences of live-in migrant care workers in the delivery of emotional labor as seen in their interactions with older people by: (1) describing the ways by which they manage emotional displays with older people; and (2) exploring their morality as enacted through emotional labor. Methods: We performed a secondary analysis drawing on feminist phenomenology to thematically analyze data from interviews with 11 female MCWs. Follow-up interviews were conducted with 10 participants. The participants had two to 15 years of experience in caring for older people in their homes in Hong Kong. Results: Performing emotional labor by suppressing and inducing emotions is morally demanding for live-in MCWs, who experience socio-culturally oppressive relationships. However, developing genuine emotions in their relationships with older people prompted the MCWs to protect the interests of older people. Through demonstrating both fake and genuine emotions, emotional labor was a tactic that live-in MCWs demonstrated to interact morally with older people. Conclusions: Emotional labor allowed live-in MCWs to avoid conflict with older people, and to further protect their own welfare and that of others. This study highlights the significance of empowering live-in MCWs by training them in ways that will help them to adapt to working conditions where they will encounter diverse customs and older people who will develop an increasing dependence on them. Thus, there is a need to develop culturally appropriate interventions to empower live-in MCWs to deliver emotional labor in a moral manner.

Original languageEnglish
Article number314
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2019


  • Culture
  • Emotional labor
  • Feminist phenomenology
  • Home care
  • Migrant care workers
  • Moral

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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