Migrant care workers in elderly care: what a study of media representations suggests about Sweden as a caring democracy

Main Article Content

Sandra Torres
Jonas Lindblom


This article sheds light on the ways in which migrant care workers in the elderly care sector were represented in Swedish daily newspaper articles published between 1995 and 2017 (n = 370); it uses the notions of the “ethics of care” and “caring democracy” as a prism through which the findings can be made sense of. By bringing attention to the fact that they are often described as the solution par excellence to the staffing crisis Swedish elderly care is experiencing, this article draws attention to portrayals of these workers as people who are  both particularly good at caring and capable of providing culture-appropriate care. Thus, although depicted as “particular Others,” these workers are represented as an asset to the sector – a sector that is thought to offer much needed but highly undervalued services. By bringing attention to both of these representations, and using the theoretical and conceptual framework “ethics of care” formulated by Tronto, the article questions whether Sweden – a country often described as the epitome of an egalitarian society – can be regarded as a caring democracy.


Metrics Loading ...

Article Details



Barnes, M., Brannelly, T., Ward, L. & Ward, N. (eds.) (2015). Ethics of Care: Critical Advances in International Perspective. Bristol: Policy Press.
Bettio, F., Simonazzi, A. & Villa, P. (2006). Change in care regimes and female migration: The “care drain” in the Mediterranean. Journal of Eu¬ropean Social Policy 16(3): 271–285.
Bourgeault, I. L., Atanackrovic, J., Rashid, A. & Parpia, R. (2010). Relations between immigrant care workers and older persons in home and long-term care. Canadian Journal of Aging 29(1): 109–118.
Brown, P. (1995). Prejudice: It’s Social Psychology. Oxford, UK & Cambridge, USA: Blackwell.
Browne, C. V. & Braun, K. L. (2008). Globalization, women’s migration, and the long-term care workforce. The Gerontologist 48(1): 16–24.
Bryman, A. (2006). Mixed Methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Cresswell, J. W. (1998). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Traditions. London: Sage Publications.
Di Rosa, M., Melchiorre, M. G., Lucchetti, M. & Lemura, G. (2012). The impact of migrant work in the elder care sector: Recent trends and em¬pirical evidence in Italy. European Journal of Social Work 15(1): 9–27.
Doyle, M. & Timonen, V. (2009). The different faces of care work: Under¬standing the experiences of the multi-cultural care workforce. Ageing & Society 29: 337–350.
Doyle, M. & Timonen, V. (2010). Obligations, ambitions, calculations: Mi¬grant care workers’ negotiation of work, career and family responsibil¬ities. Social Politics 17(1): 29–52.
Elrick, T. & Lewandowska, E. (2008). Matching and making labor demand and supply: Agents in Polish migrant networks of domestic elderly care in Germany and Italy. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 34(5): 717–734.
Ferguson, R. (1998). Representing “Race”: Ideology, Identity and the Media. New York: Arnold.
Gale, P. (2004). The refugee crisis and fear: Populist politics and media discourse. Journal of Sociology 40(4): 321–340.
Hochschild, R. (2000). Global care chains and emotional surplus value. In V. Hutton & A. Giddens (eds.), On the Edge: Living with Global Capital¬ism (pp. 130–46). London: Jonathan Cape.
Iecovich, E. (2007). Client satisfaction with live-in and live-out home care workers in Israel. Journal of Aging & Social Policy 19(4): 105–122.
Iecovich, E. (2010). Tasks performed by primary caregivers and migrant live-in homecare workers in Israel. International Journal of Ageing and Later Life 5(2): 53–75.
Iecovich, E. (2011). What makes migrant live-in home care workers in elder care be satisfied with their job? The Gerontologist 51(5): 617–629.
Jönson, H. (2007). Is it racism? Skepticism and resistance towards ethnic minority care workers among older care recipients. Journal of Geronto¬logical Social Work 49(4): 79–96.
Kilkey, M., Lutz, H. & Palenga-Möllenbeck, E. (2010). Introduction: Domestic and care work at the intersection of welfare, gender and mi¬gration regimes: Some European experiences. Social Policy & Society 9(3): 379–384.
Leeson, G. (2010). Migrant carers: Saving or sinking the sustainability of eldercare? Population Ageing 3: 1–6.
Lindblom, J. & Torres, S. (2011). Etnicitets-och migrationsrelaterade frågor inom äldreomsorgen: En analys av SvD:s rapportering mellan 1995– 2008 [Ethnicity- and migration-related issues in elderly care: An anal¬ysis of a Swedish daily newspaper from 1995–2008]. Socialvetenskaplig tidskrift 18(3): 222–243.
Lowell, B. L., Martin, S. & Stone, R. (2010). Aging and care giving in the United States: Policy contexts and the immigrant workforce. Population Ageing 3: 59–82.
Lutz, H. & Palenga-Möllenbeck, E. (2010). Care work migration in Ger¬many: Semi-compliance and complicity. Social Policy & Society 9(3): 419–430.
McGregor, J. (2007). Joining the BBC (British Bottom Cleaners)’: Zimba¬bwean migrants and the UK care industry. Journal of Ethnic and Migra¬tion Studies 33(5): 801–824.
Narayan, U. (1995). Colonialism and its others: Considerations on rights and care discourses. Hypatia 10(2): 133–140.
Neuendorf, K. (2002). The Content Analysis Guidebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Nordberg, C. (2016). Outsourcing equality: Migrant care worker imag¬inary in Finnish media. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies 6(3): 101–118.
Olt, H., Jirwe, M., Saboonchi, F., Gerrish, K. & Emami, A. (2014). Commu¬nication and equality in elderly care settings: Perceptions of first- and second generation immigrant, and native Swedish healthcare workers. Diversity and Equality in Health and Care 11: 99–111.
Olthuis, G., Kohlen, H. & Heier, J. (2014). Moral Boundaries Redrawn: The Significance of Joan Tronto’s Argument for Political Theory, Professional Ethics, and Care as Practice. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters Publishers.
Pfau-Effinger, B. & Rostgaard,T. (2011). Care between Work and Welfare in Europe. Houndsmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
Raijman, R., Schammah-Gesser, S. & Kemp, A. (2003). International migra¬tion, domestic work and care work: Undocumented Latina migrants in Israel. Gender & Society 17(5): 727–749.
Robinson, F. (2006). Care, gender and global social justice: Rethinking eth¬ical globalization. Journal of Global Ethics 2(1): 5–25.
Shutes, I. & Walsh, K. (2012). Negotiating user preferences, discrimina¬tion, and demand for migrant labour in long-term care. Social Politics 19(1): 78–104.
Silverman, D. (2001). Interpreting Qualitative Data: Methods for Analysing Talk, Text and Interaction. London, Thousand Oaks & New Delhi: Sage.
Statistiska centralbyrån (SCB) (2018). Folkmängd efter födelseregion, ålder och kön: år 2019–2120. [Population by region of birth, age and gender: 2019– 2120]. Statistikdatabasen. Available on www.statistikdatabasen.scb.se/ pxweb/sv/ssd/?rxid=cf-da-dff-bc-aa-edeb. (Accessed: January 2020)
Stevens, M., Hussein, S. & Manthorpe, J. (2012). Experiences of racism and discrimination among migrant care workers in England: Findings from a mixed-methods research project. Ethnic and Racial Studies 35(2): 259–280.
Timonen, V. & Doyle, M. (2010) Caring and collaborating across cultures? migrant care workers’ relationships with care recipients, colleagues and employers. European Journal of Women Studies 17(1): 25–41.
Torres, S. (2006a). Culture, migration, inequality and “periphery” in a globalized world: Challenges for the study of ethno- and anthro¬po-gerontology. In J. Baars, D. Dannefer, C. Phillipson & A. Walker (eds.), Aging, Globalization and Inequality: The New critical Gerontology (pp. 231–244). Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Company.
Torres, S. (2006b). Elderly immigrants in Sweden: Otherness under con¬struction. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 32(8): 1341–1358.
Torres, S., Lindblom, J. & Nordberg, C. (2014). Daily newspaper reporting on elderly care in Sweden and Finland: a quantitative content anal¬ysis of ethnicity- and migration-related issues, Vulnerable Groups & Inclusion, 5:1, https://doi.org/10.3402/vgi.v5.21260
Torres, S. (2010). Invandrarskap och tvärkulturella äldreomsorgsmöten [Ethnic otherness and cross-cultural interaction in elderly care]. In S. Johansson (red.) Omsorg och mångfald [Social Care and Diversity] (pp. 67–88). Malmö: Gleerups.
Torres, S. (2013). Transnationalism and the study of aging and old age. In C. Phellas (ed.) Aging in European Societies (pp. 267–281). New York: Springer.
Torres, S. (2017). Fobbing care work unto the “Other”: What daily press reporting shows. Sociologisk Forskning (Special Issue: “Look at what’s happening in Sweden”) 4: 319–322.
Torres, S., Lindblom, J. & Camilla Nordberg (2012). Medierepresentatio¬ner av etnicitet och migrationsrelaterade frågor inom äldreomsorgen i Sverige och Finland. [Media representations of ethnicity- and migra¬tion-related issues within elderly care in Sweden and Finland.] Sociolo-gisk forskning 49(4): 283–304.
Tronto, J. C. (1987). Beyond gender difference to a theory of care. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 12(4): 644–663.
Tronto, J. C. (1993). Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care. London & New York: Routledge.
Tronto, J. C. (1995). Care as a basis for radical political judgements. Hypatia 10(2): 141–149.
Tronto, J. C. (2010). Creating caring institutions: Politics, plurality and purpose. Ethics and Social Welfare 4(2): 158–171.
Tronto, J. C. (2013). Caring Democracy: Markets, Equality and Justice. New York: University Press.
Van Dijk, T. A. (1987). Communicating Racism: Ethnic Prejudice in Thought and Talk. Newbury Park, Beverly Hills, London & New Delhi: Sage Publications.
Wall, K. & Nunes, C. (2010). Immigration, welfare and care in Portugal: Mapping the new plurality of female migration trajectories. Social Pol¬icy & Society 9(3): 397–408.
Walsh, K. & O’Shea, E. (2010). Marginalised care: Migrant workers caring for older people in Ireland. Population Aging 3: 17–37.
Walsh, K. & Shutes, I. (2012). Care relationships, quality of care and mi¬grant workers caring for older people. Ageing & Society 33(3): 393–420.
Weicht, B. (2010). Embodying the ideal carer: The Austrian discourse on migrant carers. International Journal of Ageing and Later Life 5(2): 17–52.
Wood, N. & King, R. (2001). Media and migration: An overview. In R. King & N. Wood (eds.), Media and Migration: Constructions of Mobility and Difference (pp. 1–22). London & New York: Routledge.
Yeates, N. (2004). Global care chains: Critical reflections and lines of in¬quiry. International Feminist Journal of Politics 6(3): 369–391.