Cultural Exchange or Cheap Housekeeper? Findings of a National Survey of Au Pairs in Australia

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2018, pp. 1 - 48
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This report presents the first comprehensive study of living and working conditions of au pairs in Australia. It draws on responses from 1,479 au pairs across 34 nationalities to an online survey in 2017. The study seeks to provide an evidence base to indicate the contours and variety of au pair experiences across this country. The concept of au pairing has arisen informally in Australia as a version of a European tradition where young women spent a year-long cultural exchange with a host family in a different European country, learning a foreign language and earning ‘pocket money’ while undertaking light childcare duties. Media reports have revealed both the growing dependence of families on au pairs as a source of flexible and affordable childcare, and the risk of au pairs’ exposure to exploitative working conditions. However, because au pairing is an informal arrangement, very little is known about the day-to-day experiences of au pairs in this country, or how prevalent this practice is. Almost no empirical research has investigated the living and working conditions of au pairs in Australia, how they arrange their placement or which visas they hold during their stay. Still less is known about how experiences vary between different cohorts, such as nationality groups, host families’ locations, and au pairs who use agencies to arrange their placements as compared with other means. This study begins to fill these gaps. It reveals participants’ demographic profile (including nationality and visa used while au pairing in Australia), the characteristics of their first au pair placement (including tasks they performed in the home, rates of pay and hours), problems they encountered in Australia and how they sought assistance to resolve these, and their motivations for au pairing, benefits gained and overall appraisal of their experience, including whether they considered the experience to be closer to a cultural exchange or to work.
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