This article explores the dynamics of migration, working conditions and in/formalization in the domestic service sector in Sweden. Based on an interview study conducted in Stockholm 2009/2010, the article identifies crucial aspects of a range of large scale social and economic shifts in Sweden. Especially in focus are the conditions of migrant domestic workers (from Eastern Europe, Russia, Mongolia, Africa and South America) within a global division of labor. Compared to other European countries, Sweden is a unique case due to its social democratic welfare state traditions encouraging female work participation and public solutions for care, as well as its longstanding controversies around policies encouraging private domestic services (Gavanas, 2006; Gavanas, 2010a). Due to its hierarchical connotations in line with gender, class and ethnicity, proposals for tax deduction for domestic service have been highly contested in Sweden. The mere idea of a private domestic service goes against the grain of social democratic and feminist traditions as well as cultural preferences for public care (Gavanas, 2006; Öberg, 1999). However, since tax reductions for domestic services were introduced in 2007, rapid transformations have taken place in Sweden. In addition to the tax reductions, the Swedish market for domestic service is also expanding as a result of welfare state cutbacks, as well as privatization of public care, deregulation, internationalization and flexibilization of labor markets (Gavanas, 2006; Platzer, 2003; de los Reyes, 2002). In this article I am arguing that the domestic service market is undergoing segmentation based on social network segregation, as opposed to the policy ambition that a formal sector, as a result of the tax reductions, is replacing an informal sector.
2013. Vol. 36, 56-64 p.