Income Inequality and the Servant Boom

Inequality is likely to drive increased jobs in the service sector as appears to be the case in London:

The number of domestic servants is booming across central London: wherever the multiple between the wages of the rich and the poor grows, so does the number of servants. Much of the time, the towering Georgian and Victorian terraced houses of Belgravia now have only servants living in them – their masters and mistresses are drifting around the world, from yacht to schloss to Park Avenue apartment, in search of pleasure or tax avoidance. Drive round the area at night, and it’s often only the lights in the attics and the basements – the servants’ quarters – that are on.

But it’s not just in the gilt-edged parts of Britain that the service industry is flourishing. According to the Work Foundation, there are now more than two million part-time or full-time domestic workers across the country. All told, 10 per cent of households now employ some sort of domestic help.

The Economist concurs:

According to Britain’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), household expenditure on domestic service hit a low point in 1978, since when it has quadrupled in real terms. It estimates there are as many domestic workers in London now as in Victorian times.

The idea of working as a personal servant strikes many people as distasteful. Indeed, there is much to be said for working for a faceless corporation or for selling directly to the impersonal market. Many jobs in the personal service sector, however, do offer significant autonomy and room for creativity–for example, personal chefs, gardeners, high-end nannies, pilots, publicists and tutors. Service workers today are also less likely to be tied to a single employer, either a ready market is available to switch employers or they are already selling to a range of customers. Compared to jobs in manufacturing and in impersonal service, personal service jobs are also likely to be more immune to competition from the robots.

Hat tip: Tim Harford.


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