Female heads of households in the migrant-exporting community of Jima, Ecuador, are using remittances to employ domestic workers. As both workers and ‘mistresses’ originate from the same mestizo peasant class, these new labour relations do not reflect embedded class inequalities, but are rather emerging as a new mode of distinction between newly prosperous households and those for whom migration has been a less successful strategy. This lends a temporal fragility and fluidity to household relations, as worker and employer seek to define their roles and establish hierarchies. Employers negotiate these tensions not only to reduce their own burden of labour, but also because domestic workers are a symbol of social mobility and help enhance the reputation of migrant men. Thus, while men are physically absent, they continue to inform the reorganisation of the Jimeño household, and there is little to suggest that gender roles are being realigned in a structurally significant manner.