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Is Downton Abbey causing a rise in domestic jobs?

Published: Tuesday 22nd September 2015

After a long, long wait, Downton Abbey finally returned to our television screens this weekend. The popular period drama revolves around the lives of the Crawley family, who live in a large house that requires a lot of upkeep and staff to run it. Watching a period drama series like Downton Abbey might make you think that house staff and servants are no longer employed, but you should probably think again.

For one, Downton Abbey is believed to be behind a worldwide increase in demand for professionally-trained butlers. This demand is particularly high in China and Russia, as well as parts of the Middle East. Between 2010 and 2012, when the popular series first aired, demand in these parts of the world is thought to have doubled. In 2014, China’s first school for butlers opened to meet the demand that has been attributed to Downton Abbey’s worldwide influence and popularity.

Downton Abbey

 male butler using tablet at suite while maid working with duster

At the turn of the 20th century, the population of Britain was 36 million. Yet there were 1.5 million domestic servants. This number is higher than those workers who were employed on the land or in factories. Modern-day numbers are not as different as you might expect. A 2013 study revealed the fact that, in some affluent areas of the UK, there are now more domestic servants employed than there were 200 years ago. The survey, which was carried out by a high-end estate agent, showed that 90% of the 4,500 people who owned houses in Mayfair and 80% of those in flats employed domestic help.

However, it’s not just in the rich parts of the country that the service industry is doing well. According to the Work Foundation, more than two million part-time or full-time domestic workers are currently employed across the country. It is believed that 10% of households now employ some sort of domestic help, which can include cleaners, gardeners, in-house tutors, handymen, carers, nannies and dog-walkers.

Spike in domestic jobs

Housekeeping manager with tablet checking maid work

This is a great spike in demand compared to a few decades ago. A dip in demand for domestic service through the later parts of the 20th century was partly due to improved technology and a rise in wages. And since then, increases in house prices have long outrun earnings. This means that money is much tighter for the middle classes, and in many cases there won’t be any funds to hire a live-in servant. This is where a new group of domestic servants came in. Part-time domestic help is usually employed by double-income professional couples. With less available time for couples and families comes a rise in demand for external resources to help run a smooth household.

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