Mellon Scholars use Craigslist ads to conduct domestic worker research

Hello. We have a 9-year-old son that we need to have someone watch, mostly Monday - Thursday, 6:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. He is a very active boy and loves to go, go, and go. He loves to play hockey, ride bikes, swim, skateboard, walk, hike, and much more. If you are willing to do these things with him, this is great. We also ask while you are in our home that you pick up after him. We have three dogs that need watched over as well. They love going for rides and hikes. During the school year we are looking for someone to take him to school, pick him up, and help him get his homework done. He is involved with hockey. Sometimes we will ask you to meet us at the skating rink on his game nights. We pay $20 a day.

Supporting the growth and development of an active child, caring for three pups, and assisting with a variety of household errands, including providing transportation, is worth more than $1.82 an hour—yet, as evident by the words of the Colorado-area Craigslist advertisement above, that is all some are willing to pay domestic workers for their services.

Domestic workers, individuals who perform household services for an employer, such as cleaning, cooking, and caring for children, are all too often invisible, both socially and legally. They can work long hours for low pay with little to no benefits, while enduring excessive demands, often within hazardous conditions.


Chad MacLeod ’14

Inspired by the demanding Craigslist ad, Gettysburg College sociology majors Chad MacLeod ’14 and Ethan Budgar ’14, alongside Assistant Professor of Sociology Craig Lair, recently conducted research to determine what expectations of domestic workers employers are willing to be made public, and if those expectations are reasonable given the pay.

“To begin research on this, Ethan and I applied for a joint Mellon Summer Scholar Grant in the spring of 2013,” MacLeod said. “We received that grant and spent the entire 10-week program on campus working on the project.”

The students’ research methods were primarily centered on examining the content of Craigslist ads from New York, California, and Georgia.

“From October 2012 to July 2013, we compiled thousands of ads,” MacLeod said. “Over the course of the summer, we boiled those ads down to consider only employer-seeking-employee (unaffiliated domestic workers—workers who have no connections to hiring or temp agencies) ads. We then quantitatively and qualitatively sorted them via a number of variables—hourly wages, weekly wages, daily hours, weekly hours, desired traits, and work duties.”

The results: it’s the Wild West out there.


Ethan Budgar ’14

“For me, the most surprising aspect of the study was the disparity in offered incomes,” Budgar said. “There were cases in which employers were looking for their workers to work for less than a minimum wage—some for free in exchange for room and board—yet, there was one advertisement in particular where the nanny was being offered more than $100,000 a year.”

The team discovered “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of employers’ expectations of domestic work, where hourly wages generally fell into three main categories: zero to minimum wage ($0.00 - $7.24), minimum wage to living wage ($7.25 – $12.74), and above ($12.75+). Overtime was rarely mentioned, but ads frequently stressed that employees be flexible in work hours.

“Although each state was in a different stage of acquiring their own domestic worker bill of rights, the results that we found were very similar amongst all three. The only real differences were that New York employers were seeking a majority of full time workers, while California and Georgia sought part time; and that California and Georgia employers were seeking a majority of their employees to live in the home, while New York employers wanted to live out,” Budgar said.

“Our research is important because it serves to fill a gap in the existing literature in the field of domestic work. There are many published reports that take the perspective of the employee, but currently very few from the employer’s perspective. We hope we were better able to frame what employer’s expectations of their domestic workers actually are.”

Their work has led them to present at the Eastern Sociological Society Conference in Baltimore and the International Labour Process Conference in London this year, as well as promote the efforts of Hand-in-Hand, a nationwide organization that makes information accessible to employers about the responsibilities they must uphold in regards to domestic workers.

The Gettysburgians, who hope to publish a paper on their research in the near future, credit their experiences at Gettysburg College as a great foundation for their academic pursuits.

“Studying at Gettysburg College helped throughout the research process. In my Research Methods course, I learned about research methodology, specifically the content analysis we utilized,” Budgar said. “Chad’s Sociology Statistics course helped immensely with our qualitative analyses, and our understanding of some of the programs that were important in aiding our research. Our presentation skills also benefitted from the various presentations we had to do for our classes, and in the Mellon Summer Scholars program that was made available to us by the College.”


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Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Mike Baker, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6521.

Posted: Thu, 1 May 2014

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