Through the use of in-depth qualitative interviews, Modern Day Mary Poppins: The Unintended Consequences of Nanny Work examines the experiences of and relationships between nannies and their employers. Laura Bunyan uncovers the depths of caring labor while exposing the complicated nature of the relationships formed in care work and their impact on work experiences. Modern Day Mary Poppins reveals that the hiring process for nannies, the personal relationships formed between families and nannies, and work experiences are not straightforward or one-dimensional. Bunyan sheds further light on the long-term implications of early gendered work experiences, and the ways they position women to perform precarious labor.
Laura Bunyan is assistant professor in residence at the University of Connecticut, Stamford.
Chapter 1: Hiring Decisions: Employers Dilemmas
Chapter 2: Pathways to Nanny Work: Education, Status and Employment
Chapter 3: The Ties that Bind: Doing Gender and Expectations of Care
Chapter 4: Gender and Power: Interactions in the Workplace and on the Homefront
Chapter 5: Nanny Work: Hard Lessons Learned
Conclusion, Implications, and Suggestions
Rather than focus on the imbalance of power, resources, education, or racism experienced by women who work as nannies, Modern Day Mary Poppins focuses on nannies and employers who share similar sociodemographic characteristics. Drawing on in-depth interviews with a sample of 27 employers and 25 nannies, Bunyan explores the process and criteria employers use in selecting a nanny, the educational and occupational trajectories of women who become nannies, issues of attachment between nannies and children (from the perspective of both the nanny and the employer), gender differences in the division of labor, and the ways in which nannies and employers characterize nanny work as a relatively unattractive, long-term occupation. The book makes no claim to be generalizable. Instead, its contributions come in the form of opening up new questions about nanny work itself, the gender biases in education that lead some women to feel limited in their employment options, and how even the privileges of race, education, and class do not transcend the persistent cultural beliefs that parenting is not valuable work, that parenting is women’s work, and that policy need not support it. Highly recommended.
Modern Day Mary Poppins is an important book. Laura Bunyan takes the unique approach in studying nannies who share similar cultural and social capital to their employers. Dr. Bunyan discusses how societal pressures push parents to give their children additional advantages through the education and private lives of their nannies, while paying close attention to the contradictions of labor being valued and taken for granted that is inherent in the employer-employee relationship by focusing on gender, and class. This work has deep implications for how we understand privileged opportunities as well as the reproduction of competition.
Laura Bunyan’s Modern Day Mary Poppins reveals the complex, intimate, and sometimes messy connections between nannies and the families with whom they work. Inspired by her own experience as a nanny and grounded in data from in-depth qualitative interviews with nannies and their employers, Bunyan explores how issues of attachment and power in nanny work reify inequalities reflected within our larger society, exposing the array of complexities that emerge when care is commodified. Modern Day Mary Poppins is a compelling read that challenges what we think we know about who provides care, why they do so, and how and why particular providers are selected for employment.
This research is a welcome and important addition to the discussion on care work, gendered labor, and the informal economy and would be a great addition to social science courses on the family, gender, or work/labor. Bunyan presents a compelling case for the need to better institutionalize and formalize nanny work as a means of protecting the people who enter into this labor. Bunyan leaves the reader with empirically driven policy recommendations and suggestions and pushes us all to consider how the crucial labor of caring for children is treated in our society and in our homes.
9/30/21, Choice: This book was included in a roundup of "Top 75 Community College Titles."