Girls’ Family Labor in Low-Income Households: A Decade of Qualitative Research


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    Department of Sociology, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 02424.

† Sociology Department, Boston College, 408 McGuinn Hall, 140 Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467-3807 (


This article analyzes a decade of qualitative research to identify and explore an overlooked survival strategy used in low-income families: children's family labor. Defined as physical duties, caregiving, and household management responsibilities, children’s—most often girls’—family labor is posited as a critical source of support where low wages and absent adult caregivers leave children to take over essential, complex, and time-consuming family demands. We argue that there are lost opportunities when children are detoured from childhood to do family labor and that an intergenerational transfer of poverty is associated with those losses.