Posted in Food for thought

Emotional Labor -Inequalities caused by Neoliberal Capitalism

The concept of emotional labor helps us understand the inequalities of gender, workplace power relations and nationality inequalities directly under the economic system of neoliberal capitalism.

Hochschild first devised the term emotional labor to describe the interchange of a socially desirable performance as a service for a wage (2012). Utilizing one’s emotions and feelings as work, rather than the traditional, physical work, through the management of their feelings, facial and bodily presentation. As emotional labor is something that can be taught and conveyed through culture and includes unpaid and paid work (Hochschild, 2003). Neoliberal capitalism has caused the western economy to favor a service industry rather than manufacturing, through globalization manufacturing has been moved to less expensive, non-capitalist countries. Thus capitalist countries put different value on various service economy jobs, causing inequalities, as economic capital is most desired within capitalism.

Within emotional labor, it is evident of the inequalities under neoliberal capitalism as desired or undesired feeling rules are unequal for different genders. Women are understood to take on the emotional role, being naturally caring and supportive. Whereas males are expected to conserve feelings of affection or care and take on a ‘tough’ or ‘masculine’ mentality. An evident inequality of emotion work within the capitalist system is the unpaid labor within the home, which is essential for the capitalist system to take place. Caring work is commonly given to women, as they take care of the family, so that the family can work for the neoliberal service economy. This work is not seen as valuable in a capitalist system as it is seen to be ‘natural’ for women and does not produce direct economic benefit. The gift economy is men or women doing what is seen to be the other genders ‘natural’ job, called a gift to the economy and a win for that individual within that gender which is an inequality under the capitalist system, due to the labels and stereotypes put onto specific genders.

Emotional labor is unequal within the work sector of capitalist economies, as people are alienated from their work and from themselves. Personalities are stripped within the work sector as under the capitalist system, individuals are merely a cog in the system who are easily replaced due to casualization. As a flight attendant, being within the modern, neoliberal service industry, the inequalities of power relationships within emotional labor is evident as they have to utilize deep acting to really believe in the service and company’s values of caring for customers and smiling, even when not reciprocated. The capitalist system relies on consuming resources from the poorer regions, including emotional labor. These consumption patterns produce inequalities, as richer countries run low on emotional and sexual resources, devalued in an economic system, they are outsourced to those who are in need of work, due to inequalities globally.

Within a neoliberal capitalist society, majority of women partake in paid work because families need two breadwinners to keep up economically. This causes shifts in valued labor to economy rather than humanistic, as it is still left to women to care for children, elderly parents and homes within the Patriarchal system of capitalism. This is a gender inequality but when implemented globally, a racial inequality, as women are hired from developing countries to do the devalued ‘women’s’ caring work. Developing countries are essential for the neoliberal capitalist societies to function, as the women ‘doing it all’ need help. There is an unequal value of people and their nationality. As majority of people taking part in a service jobs, maids, nannies or sex workers, are from developing, non-capitalist countries. It is evident that the richer, developed countries take on the traditional male role of being more valued and focusing on economics, whereas the poorer, developing countries take on the traditional women’s role of undervalued caring, emotional labor. This is a major racial inequality that has come about due to emotional labor within the capitalist economic structure.

In conclusion, this writing has explored the inequalities caused by neoliberal capitalism within emotional labor. In presenting this exploration it looked at unequal, stereotypical gender roles and norms, the unequal workplace power relations of alienation of the self and the inequalities of emotional work between global nationalities. Therefore, the concept of emotional labor helps us understand the inequalities of gender, workplace power relations and global races inequalities directly under the economic system of neoliberal capitalism.


Reference List

  • Ehrenreich, B. and Hochschild, A. (2002) ‘Introduction’ in Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy. Eds. B. Ehrenreich, and A. Hochschild. New York: Holt, pp. 1-13.
  • Hochschild, A. (1983/2003). ‘Exploring the managed heart’ in The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. London: University of California Press, pp. 3-23
  • Hochschild, A. (2012). The Outsourced Self. Metropolitan Books: New York.
  • PICTURE: Hayley O’Grady, Pictured by Meg B



This blog aims to capture things in my life that I love and have a passion for. These include my travels and travel plans, fabulous reads, general life observations and my continuing insight into anthropological studies.

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