A Stranger/Helper at Home: An Integrated Framework on Hiring Domestic Help and Family Relations in Hong Kong

Project: Research project

Project Details


Using paid domestic labor is becoming increasingly common in Hong Kong and many other post-industrial societies. In 2011, about 15% of domestic households with married couples employed a live-in domestic helper. Unlike many Western societies where the households tend to hire part-time domestic help, nearly 90% of Hong Kong households using paid domestic labor employed foreign live-in helpers at home. Therefore, the knowledge from Western societies may not help us to fully understand the role of domestic help in the Hong Kong context. As the well-being of a large number of families is related to this family practice, a study dedicated to this issue would contribute significantly to the empirical and theoretical literature of family sociology, and provide valuable policy insights into Hong Kong society.

The scope of previous studies on this topic is limited in three ways: (1) Most studies rely on cross-sectional data only and take choosing to hire domestic help as a simple dichotomous one-off decision. None of these studies incorporated a temporal dimension to consider the timing, frequency and length of employment of the domestic helpers; (2) While some past studies have revealed the potential problems with using paid domestic labor, these studies were mostly based on a small non-representative sample, making it difficult to estimate the prevalence of the problems; (3) The factors related to employing foreign domestic helpers are mostly limited to the characteristics within the households, without much consideration on factors external to the families, such as the economic environment and social network.

This proposed study is innovative theoretically and methodologically. Theoretically, the proposed study aims at developing a theoretical framework that integrates the social capital and life-course perspectives with existing theories in housework and domestic outsourcing literature to investigate the prevalence, timing and duration of employing live-in domestic help among married couples in Hong Kong, and to examine the factors, patterns and familial consequences of having a live-in helper. Methodologically, a mixed-methods research approach will be adopted. The first phase of the study consists of a large-scale representative household survey. The household survey will be the first of its kind to collect both cross-sectional and event-history data related to paid domestic labor. The second phase of the study consists of in-depth interviews with couples at different stage of employing foreign domestic helpers (informants will be sampled from the household survey) to reveal the deeper meanings of the relationships between the variables.
Effective start/end date1/01/1831/12/20

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities


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