Every Filipino home has someone looking after the children’s needs, nursing an ill or elderly relative, doing the cooking, cleaning, and other usually undervalued but crucial activities needed for any household to function.

In lower to middle-income households, these care responsibilities are performed usually unpaid by a woman member of the family. If the female household head is employed, the work is mostly delegated to a paid carer or domestic worker. For rich households, the burden of care work is shared by many paid domestic workers.

Many domestic worker recruits are internal migrants, usually from poor families who want to go to school or to simply escape rural poverty. Or they could be longtime residents in urban areas but lack the required education or other employment criteria.

According to a 2018 internal migration survey by the Department of labor and Employment, 55 percent of Filipinos aged 15 up have moved out of their birthplaces once since birth.1 The survey also found that 49 percent were internal migrants, three percent moved to/from another country (international migrants). Those who never left were estimated to be 45 percent. Women migrants are slightly older than their male counterparts, while more than half of the migrants were less than 30 years old.

These internal migrants are also better educated, having reached college or tertiary level, and those who migrated overseas were even more educated. Also, most of them moved from rural areas to urban cities, with Metro Manila being the top destination.

An earlier study in 20062 also found that the number of female internal migrants were 53.1 percent higher than their male counterparts’ 37.8 percent. For moving into rural from urban areas, the main reason for a male migrant is finding a new job followed by getting married, while it is the reverse for a female migrant. Meanwhile, the main reason for both male and female migrants moving from rural to urban was job security and better schools.

Domestic work is therefore interwoven into poverty and migration.3 And this is one of the reasons why wages for domestic workers4 have been historically low, weighed down by a culture that is yet to recognize household work as critical to the functioning of individual families and society as a whole. This situation, however, is also true in many countries.5

The flip side of this affordability of domestic work, however, is that it has allowed people both in lower and middle-income classes to work and leave their household duties and join the workforce, helping the economy.6

Recent developments however have stalled this progress. In August 2023, Dr. Jonna Estudillo of the University of the Philippines School of Economics presented her study titled: On Female Labor Force Participation (FLFP) globally, in Asia, and in the Philippines. Analyzing available past and most recent literature, she found that first, the stage of economic development has a significant impact on women joining the labor force. Second, the decline in the number of children and the rise in women’s education significantly increased women’s participation in the labor force, and finally, the FLFP remains low and has been declining since the mid-2010s in the Philippines despite improving education and wage levels for women. The trend was also accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and importantly, by the prevailing Filipino cultural practice of having women do most of the care work.

Also, domestic work is a largely invisible labor7—workers live and work inside private homes, making abuse and labor-related violations easier to commit.

But how critical is care and domestic work, to warrant such concern?


1 Mapa, C.D., (2020). More than half of Filipinos 15 years and over have ever migrated [2020-019]. Philippine Statistics Authority.
2 Quisumbing, A.R. & McNiven, S., (2007). Migration and the Rural-Urban Continuum: Evidence from Bukidnon, Philippines, Philippine Journal of Development.
3De Guzman, M.R.T, (2014). Yaya: Philippine Domestic Care Workers, the Children They Care for, and the Children They Leave Behind, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
4The Philippine government prefers using Household Service Workers (HSWs) in referring to Domestic Workers.
5 Sedacca, N. (2022). Domestic Workers, the ‘Family Worker’ Exemption from Minimum Wage, and Gendered Devaluation of Women’s Work, Industrial Law Journal, Volume 51, Issue 4, Pages 771–801.
6 Buchhave, H., Belghith, N.B.H., (2022). Overcoming barriers to women’s work in the Philippines. World Bank.
7 Sayres, N.J., (2007). An Analysis of the Situation of Filipino Domestic Workers. International Labor Organization. Retrieved on June 15, 2023.