Emotion Work of Paid and Unpaid Caregivers of the Elderly in Chile





Elderly Care, Emotion Work, Emotional Labour, Care Work, Caregivers, Qualitative Research


In most societies, care work is still considered a private, gendered activity, under the assumption that women would innately perform such tasks. Caring for the elderly represents particular emotional challenges, being emphasised that this dimension of caregiving needs more attention. Building on Arlie Hochschild’s (1983) conceptualisation of emotion work and incorporating Tonkens’ (2012) observation to include meso- and macro-level into the scope, I argue that emotion work is not only an individual experience, but it has a component in which the norms associated with the emotions to be displayed in caregiving correspond to a frame of reference historically constructed. Hence, this paper aims to understand how emotion work is characterised and configured by caregivers of the elderly in Chile. Using a qualitative approach, between April and June 2023 I conducted 9 in-depth interviews with caregivers of older adults in Chile (8 women, 1 man), and asked them to keep an ‘emotional diary’ for at least 4 weeks. Conducting a constructivist grounded theory analysis, the main findings indicate differences between the emotion work performed by paid and unpaid caregivers. Paid caregivers manage emotions regarding affection and pity towards older adults, and mainly anger towards older adults’ families, which is supported by a construction of old age based on the notions of abandonment and loneliness. Alternatively, the emotions of family caregivers are much more complex to manage, since they are permeated by the existing relationship with the old person being cared for, and they belong to life course decisions. It can be concluded that emotion work is a relational activity where familialistic narratives play a central role in Chile. The management of emotions in caregiving is permeated by the caregiver’s options of free decision-making, which are in tension with structures such as gender, class, or access to care support.