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Domestic services involve the employment of workers to perform household tasks such as child care, cooking, gardening, housecleaning, and personal services.

Historically, enslaved people provided domestic services. Ancient Greece and Rome used slaves for such services, while, in Medieval Europe, serfs served these purposes. In Colonial America and the antebellum South, indentured servants and slaves provided domestic services.

It wasn't until the 1870s that domestic servants became wage earners in the United States and most European countries. The royalty and gentry in Victorian England employed large numbers of servants, male and female, establishing an elaborate hierarchy of positions and room for advancement. Women could advance from scullery maid to cook, or from chambermaid to housekeeper, while men could work their way up from groom to valet, to butler, or steward. Stewards and housekeepers often had their own servants. Lesser, but still well-to-do, families might employ a staff of six or more servants, including a lady's maid, nanny, and butler.

In most European countries and the United States, the number of people in domestic employment increased dramatically through the late 19th century, as a growing number of middle- and upper-class families were able to afford household help. In the United States, unskilled immigrants made up a large portion of the domestic labor force.

Throughout most of the 20th century, domestic services were in decline in the US and Europe. An increase in better-paying job opportunities following World Wars I and II elevated several former domestic workers, while the expansion of labor-saving household devices and less expensive outside services, such as daycare centers, nursing homes, and laundries, lessened the demand.

The demand increased somewhat in the 21st century, with homecare services for the elderly and disabled. Today, in the United States, most recipients of domestic services are disabled people and the elderly, and the term "servant" is not so much in use anymore.

Minimum-wage and overtime protections were extended to most domestic service employees in 1974 by the US Congress, and the same protections were extended to home care workers in 2015. The UK's Master and Servant Act of 1823 was perhaps the first legislation of its kind, although it tended to favor employers. In 2011, the International Labour Organization adopted the Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, granting domestic workers the same rights as other workers.

Many domestic workers reside within their employer's home, although it is a day job for others. Although legislation protects the rights of domestic workers in many countries, such as the United States, in some countries there are no such laws, or they are not fully enforced, and slavery still exists in some parts of the world.

Some employers require domestic workers in their employ to wear a uniform, although some countries, such as Chile and Peru, have enacted legislation banning employers from requiring a uniform in public places, although they may still be required within the employer's residence.

Once a common practice throughout the world, in some countries, children are employed as domestic servants. Most children in domestic service are live-in workers who are under the control of their employers around the clock. Although some are surely well-treated, these children are vulnerable to exploitation.

Migrants are often employed in domestic services, providing a wide range of tasks.

In most areas, women dominate the domestic labor market, particularly indoor tasks.

Domestic service positions include the au pair, a foreign-national domestic assistant working for, and living as part of a host family. Typically, the au pair will take on a share of the family's responsibility for child care and housework, receiving room and board, as well as a stipend for personal use.

Others include babysitters or nannies, butlers, chauffeurs, cooks, dog walkers, and gardeners or groundskeepers, although privately contracted landscapers or groundskeeping services would not fit into this category.

Gatekeepers may be employed to guard the main entrance to an estate, while various types of maids or houseboys might be employed to assist in a large residence. Others might include pages, personal shoppers, personal trainers, pool persons, or valets. Others may be employed to do laundry in a large estate or senior citizen facility.

In many cases, maid services are different from what was traditionally the services provided by a maid, and both men and women are employed as maids. Once part of an elaborate hierarchy of maids employed in affluent homes, today a maid is likely to be the only domestic worker that even upper-class households can afford. Only the elite in the Western world can afford live-in domestic help today.


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