The domestic employer is thus legally and socially more advantageously placed than the domestic employee. The nature of the demand for service of this kind, however, is so peculiar, and the conditions under which it presents itself so unlike other kinds of demand for wage-workers, that in some respects the domestic servant is at a distinct advantage as compared with other wage-earning women. In industrial and mercantile establishments the employer is at an advantage as compared with his prospective employee, in knowledge of the business and of the market, in ability to wait and in bargaining skill. In domestic establishments, on the other hand, the opposite is true. Here the employee knows the job, knows the market, has the power to wait and bargaining skill probably greater than the employer. The result has been that, without any organization and without combinations of domestics to do collective bargaining, wages, hours, and working conditions have in many communities been very considerably improved for groups of workers. These changes, being due not to any well-considered plan, worked out on the basis of a careful study of the occupation, but rather to individual and often ill-considered and ill-advised whims on the part of maid-servants, have done little to standardize the service as a whole and to make things better for those workers who lack the special abilities to which reference has been made. For some, therefore, wages have been raised, the half-day out secured, limitations placed on evening work, privileges of a social kind obtained, and better living conditions sometimes demanded. These are all good so far as they go. But there have been few suggestions as to standards of work or methods of administration. Labor-saving devices have not been invented or structural changes in the house of a kind likely to facilitate work proposed.
Other features of the relationship which distinguish it from most wage-bargains are, first, the practice of paying partly in kind. The "living in" system, in accordance with which the employee is housed and fed by the employer, is found in no other occupation in this country, except in the case of agricultural labor and in construction work done by gangs. It is being much discussed in connection with the shop assistants in England, where it still survives, and many objections urged against it there could be with equal force urged against it in the case of domestic labor here. These objections are chiefly three. The first is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to standardize the accommodations provided. The room occupied by one maid may be thoroughly comfortable, adequate in size, attractively furnished, and wholly suitable, and her meals may be abundant, palatable, perhaps lavish, while a maid in a neighboring household may be housed under wholly unsuitable conditions and expected to content herself with food inadequate in amount and unattractive in kind.
A second objection to the "living in" is found in the fact that the maid, while physically within the family group, is spiritually separated from them by the social barrier to which reference has been made. Although she lives in the house, she gives no account of her goings or comings; she is therefore without the protection furnished by her own family's knowledge of her movements, and the family with which she lives supplies no substitute. On this account, the employment is considered by students of the social evil, by wardens of reformatories for women, and by those familiar with the history of the girls who have been drafted into lives of immorality, as a conspicuously "dangerous trade."
A third consequence of the "living in" system is that it becomes more difficult to standardize the hours of work. More and more the community is recognizing the advantages of a standardized day. Many states have limited the hours of employment of women in factories and workshops, possibly in mercantile establishments. In some states night work is prohibited for such groups of workers. But when the maid lives in, so that she can hear the front door and telephone bells, why should she not answer them; why not call on her to get the early breakfast, the late supper, or to render any service needed between those extremes of the day?
This lack of standardization in the accommodations and the length of working; day is characteristic of most features of domestic service, and might by a superficial student be ascribed to the nature of the tasks performed. That this is not the true explanation is shown by the rapidity with which many forms of personal service are now being organized and, as it were, professionalized, as the industrial processes were organized at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The demand for the midday meal near the place of business is developing new kinds of "waiting on table." The waitress, the boy behind the lunch counter, and the cafetiere where one serves one's self, are all substitutes for the old midday home dinner. The shampoo, hairdressing, manicure, and "shoe-shine" establishments provide other forms of menial personal service so specialized and so dignified as to remove all question of personal relationship and so all question of superiority and inferiority.
Along such lines further development may be expected. More reliance will be placed upon standardized services performed outside the home; more upon standardized services performed within the home by the person who comes to perform her task and goes when it is done; and for the general helper in the home the same process must take place.
As the housekeeper becomes more conscious of the true nature of her function and has her attention more and more focused on the problem of administration, the canons of efficiency will be observed, tasks of all kinds will be standardized as to products and method of performance, instructions will become definite, devices in the nature of profit-sharing will be invented to interest the maid in her own increasing efficiency and skill.