The Social Construction of “Dirty Work” for Working in Residential Care Homes for the Elderly

Sui Yu YAU*, Yin King LEE, Siu Yin LI, Sze Ki LAI, Sin Ping LAW, Shixin HUANG

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book Chapters | Papers in Conference ProceedingsBook ChapterResearchpeer-review


The notion of “dirty work” as a socially constructed metaphor of caregiving work in “residential care homes for the elderly” (RCHE) has been one of the most consequential factors contributing to the acute labour shortage in RCHE. It operates within the context of rapid population ageing and increasing social demand for RCHE work. The term “dirty work” is widely used by a variety of stakeholders in social discourses to describe the job nature in RCHE or to explain RCHE staff shortages in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, RCHE workers’ insider experiences with the meaning of RCHE work are largely absent from the community and the literature, resulting in the hidden social processes that stigmatise and marginalise these workers. This chapter calls for the pressing needs of understanding how “dirty work” is being socially constructed and how it contributes to a critical factor of the RCHE workforce crisis in Hong Kong. It aims at generating new discussion on the development of public policy to cope with the workforce crisis from a socio-cultural perspective that is largely lacking in the process of making RCHE workforce policy and may facilitate the socio-cultural change in public views on RCHE work.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationQuality of Life in Asia
EditorsVincent Tin Sing LAW, Ben Yuk Fai FONG
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9789811930614
Publication statusPublished - 13 Sept 2022
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameQuality of Life in Asia
ISSN (Print)2211-0550
ISSN (Electronic)2211-0569

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements The work described in this paper was fully supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (UGC/FDS16/M12/20).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.


  • Residential care homes for the elderly
  • Dirty work
  • Workforce crisis
  • Health care workforce


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