Part of the Anthropologies of American Medicine: Culture, Power, and Practice series
Paid home care is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and millions of Americans rely on these workers to help them remain at home as they grow older. However, the industry is rife with contradictions. The United States spends a fortune on medical care, yet devotes comparatively few resources on improving wages, thus placing home care providers in the ranks of the working poor. As a result, the work that enables some older Americans to live independently generates profound social inequalities.
Inequalities of Aging explores the ways in which these inequalities play out on the ground as workers, who are disproportionately women of color and immigrants, earn poverty-level wages and often struggle to provide for themselves and their families. The ethnographic narrative reveals how two of the nation’s most pressing concerns—rising social inequality and caring for an aging population—intersect to transform the lives of older adults, home care workers, and the world around them.
The book takes readers inside the homes and offices of people connected to two Chicago area home care agencies serving low-income and affluent older adults, respectively. Through intimate portrayals of daily life, Elana D. Buch illustrates how diverse histories, care practices, and social policies overlap and contribute to social inequality.
Illuminating the lived experience of both workers and their clients, Inequalities of Aging shows the different ways in which the idea of independence both connects and shapes the lives of the elderly and the working poor.
"Inequalities of Aging is a brilliantly told story of precarious and unequal lives. Page by page we witness the haunting moral engagements of those bound together, care workers and older adults, and the pretense of independence that care workers bestow on those they care for. This inspired ethnography captures, close up, the mysterious nature of human relationships and places them in the context of tenacious social policies that devalue and underpay the care workforce."
—Carol Stack, author of Call to Home: African Americans Reclaim the Rural South and All Our Kin
“A compelling examination of homecare that looks at both workers’ and elder’s experiences. Homecare is a growing industry with profound impacts on the lives of older people and low income workers. This accessible ethnographic account shows how the cultural commitment to independence for older adults generates dependency and inequality in the lives of homecare workers. I look forward to teaching this book and talking about the issues it raises with my students.”
—Jessica Mulligan, Providence College
"Brilliant, illuminating, and wrenching, Buch’s extraordinary ethnography offers an intimate account of how the fate of older adults and the working poor who care for them are bound together, in a society that devalues both aging and care and is obsessed with independence. Penetrating and provocative, Inequalities of Aging makes a major contribution to the anthropology and sociology of aging, care work, and social inequality."
—Sarah Lamb, author of White Saris and Sweet Mangoes and Successful Aging as a Contemporary Obsession