Volume 28, Issue 1/2, Fall 2022
Neoliberal Capitalism, Older Adult Care and Feminist Theory
Classic feminist social theory highlights the exploitation of women’s labor in capitalist societies traditionally through an examination of how housework and childcare is perceived and organized, excluding an explicit analysis of older adult care work. In light of the surge in the demand for older adult caregiving over the last several decades, this paper uses older adult care work as a new lens to understand how gender, and its intersections with other critical identities such as race, ethnicity, and nativity, are a basis for continued exploitation and marginalization in modern capitalist systems. Building on Marxist feminism and Sylvia Wynter’s work on social value and domination, I argue that women’s care labor, both paid and unpaid, is an instrument of capital accumulation that differentially exploits women based on key intersectional identities. An examination of the system of older adult care work in the United States allows us to see the multilayered and complex system of exploitation that creates and institutionalizes existing social hierarchies as capitalism seeks to expand. The paper ends with a discussion of two potential family care paths America could conceivably pursue in the coming years; one toward increased commodification of care work in line with neoliberal capitalism, and the other toward more comprehensive social welfare policies that alleviate women’s reproductive labor burden and begin to break down gendered and racialized hierarchies.