||Women, Work and
Employment in Europe
2.2 Features of Women’s Employment in Europe
The way in which the significant increase in women’s employment in recent years is interpreted depends largely on the historical perspective adopted. There is all too often a tendency to present the massive influx of European women onto the labour market from the 1970's onwards as a totally new phenomenon. If one adopts a longer historical perspective, the opposite appears to be the case, i.e. the periods during which women’s collective absence from paid employment was the norm can be seen as exceptional in European history. Thus, for example, the employment rates of French women reached their lowest level since the beginning of the 19th century in 1961 (28.2%) while in 1806 29.4% of French women were in the labour market.
At the beginning of the 1990's women’s employment rate (37.9%) had only just begun to surpass the economic activity rates they had reached between 1896 and 1921 (35% and 36%). This puts the cries of alarm coming from those who regularly denounce the nefarious effects of the currently high rates of women’s employment into a new perspective! Women have always participated in the economic production of European countries. It is nevertheless the case that the patterns of women’s economic activity have changed over time. Initially employed in rural and agrarian production, trade and crafts, women often worked from home or in structures where the boundary between economic production and domestic reproduction were far from clear-cut. During the second half of the 20th century, the introduction of salaried employment outside the home has totally transformed the domestic and professional reality of women across Europe.
Despite an overall increase in women’s employment rates in Europe, important differences between EU counties remain. While men’s activity rates vary from 62% in Finland to 80.5% in Portugal, the differences in the women’s employment rates are clearly greater: from 32.3% in Spain to 76.1% in Sweden (Table 1). Despite the recent growth in women’s employment in European countries, it is worth noting that these levels are still lower than those found in other industrialised countries in the world such as the United States. The historical development of employment is clearly differentiated according to sex. Thus, for European men, there has been a decrease in employment rates for the youngest and oldest age groups - under 25 years old, largely due to the expansion of higher education, and over 50 year old due to lower retirement ages, and a stable rate in the middle age groups (25 - 49 years). For women, there have been various developments for the youngest and oldest age groups according to the country, but a large increase in the employment rates of women aged between 25 and 49. The recent increase in women’s employment is thus a result of changes in the activity patterns of European women of child-bearing and child-rearing age. (Maruani 1995: 109).
Much the same applies for the proportion of salaried workers in the working population. The status of the salaried worker differs from that of the self employed or employers. Generally women workers are more often salaried than their male counterparts, about 85% in 1990, as opposed to 79% for men (Table 2). However, important differences in the number of salaried workers exist from country to country. These differences both reflect the distribution of jobs between different sectors of the economy: the primary, i.e. agriculture, fishing, etc., secondary, i.e. industrial production and manufacturing, and tertiary, i.e. services sectors, and the different distribution of men and women within the labour market. Overall, women tend to be concentrated in the tertiary sector where salaried work predominates. Data in Table 2 show that :
The growth in the level of women’s employment is largely accounted for by the predominance of salaried workers ; female employment over the last ten years has led to wage earning jobs. (Maruani 1995: 109).
It is worth noting that different welfare systems have equally effected women’s employment rates and the proportion of salaried workers amongst the female working population:
State policies can affect the demand for women’s employment, the manner in which women are defined as being employed or unemployed on the job market, the costs and benefits that influence the decision to work, given the costs of child care and other constraints. (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1996, No 9: 2).
The proportion of salaried women varies according to the size of the public sector. Women are more likely to work in the public sector than men in nearly all EU countries, with the exception of Greece and Luxembourg. The development of public services has a duel effect on women’s employment. Firstly, their labour market access is facilitated by the availability of publicly funded facilities for child care, care of the elderly, sick and handicapped members of society. Secondly, the public provision of these services serves to increase the demand for female labour.
Women’s employment curves provide the most precise information on the changes that are currently taking place in the E.U. (Graphs 1-15: see Appendixes). Traditionally, it has been standard practice to distinguish between three types of female employment curves:
This curve reflects a model of discontinuous female employment. Here, women aged between 20 and 25, who are usually single or without children, are on the job market in large numbers. After marriage or motherhood they cease professional activity and employment levels for women in the 26 to 60 years old age groups are relatively low.
This curve corresponds to a model of career breaks. In this case, the majority of women are employed after leaving school, but retire from the labour market between 25 and 40 years old, when their children are young. The second peak corresponds to the age when women return to the labour market after their children are grown up. According to the country, this return to the job market may be on a part-time or full-time basis.
This curve is characterised by continuous employment. This is the shape of the employment curve for men and it corresponds to a situation where women do not leave the labour market when they have children. Even when the children are young they combine work and family life. This curve indicates a certain homogenisation of male and female employment behaviour. (Maruani 1995: 109).
(working population as % of total working age population)
(*) Not including the new Länder Source: Rubery et alii 1996 : 284.
(% of salaried workers amongst the working population )
1 Data for 1987 2 Data for 1985. Source: Maruani 1995 : 108.
Graphs 1 - 5 (see Appendixes) point to some recent developments. At the beginning of the 1960's, it was possible to distinguish five different models of female employment patterns in Europe.
In the 1960's, only Sweden and Finland were characterised by the inverted U curve of continuous female employment. This model was identified as a Scandinavian model, where the levels and patterns of women’s employment were similar to those of their male counterparts. Since the beginning of the 1980's, this model has become even more prevalent in these countries, with a decrease in the employment rates for the under 25 years age group, linked to an expansion in higher education for young women. (Rubery et alii 1996 : 287).
The discontinuous economic activity curve with a low employment rate
In a similar way, at the beginning of the 1960's, the Southern European countries shared the same type of employment curve, characterised by low employment rates at around 20% for the 25 to 49 years age group, with a small peak at 25 years old. In this case, the development over the last 30 years clearly differs according to country:
Over the years paths have radically diverged: models of employment have diversified to such an extent that there is no longer a unified model in Southern Europe. In Italy and Spain, the curve has kept the same form, but the level of employment has increased more sharply in Italy than in Spain. The peak for employment remains at around the 25 years old age mark. Changes here are more quantitative than qualitative: there are more women in work but a large proportion of them cease employment after the age of 25. These retreats from the labour market are less common amongst the 30 - 40 years age group: there is a generation factor which suggest a different future. Greece has had a distinct development: it is the only country where female employment rates decreased between 1960 and 1980. They then went up in the 1980's to nearly reach the same level as Italy and Spain in 1991. In Portugal the situation is completely different. Originally with a low level of employment, i.e. less than 20% for women aged over 25 year olds, this country has seen rising female employment, close in its form and level to France and Denmark. Out of all the EU countries, Portugal has seen the most rapid growth: in the course of the last 30 years, Portuguese women have moved from low levels of employment to continuous employment, without a detour through a stage of discontinuous employment patterns. In 1960, less than 20% of Portuguese women were employed between the age of 25 and 49 years. Thirty years later, more than 75% of them are on the job market. (Maruani 1995: 110).
The discontinuous economic activity curve with an average employment rate
During the 1960's, the third category included countries like Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. A single peak activity curve, with an intermediate employment rate for women aged between 25 and 49 years, i.e. below 20% for the Netherlands, just above 20% for Austria, and Belgium. At the beginning of the 1990's, the Netherlands have evolved towards a camel's back discontinuous employment pattern, but with a level of women returners that is lower than in Germany or Britain. In Austria and Belgium, there is still a curve with a single peak which is being transformed into a plateau, i.e. women’s employment is increasing considerably with a growing number of women adopting continuous careers, although this has yet to become the dominant norm for these countries.
At the beginning of the 1960's, there were four countries with very similar women’s employment patterns. In Germany, Denmark, France and the United Kingdom, the employment curve was the camel's back discontinuous activity model with a decrease in the employment rates of women aged 25 to 49 years to around 40%. Thirty years later these countries had developed in different ways:
Denmark and France have seen their curves take the form of an inverted U, showing a model of continuous employment. In Denmark, this development was made in successive and regular stages from 1960 onwards. In France, the development was more rapid after 1968. In these two countries, more and more women have joined the labour market and continuous employment has become the rule. In Germany and the United Kingdom, the shape of the curve has remained with two peaks, while employment rates have risen sharply in the UK and less quickly in Germany. There are more women on the job market, but career breaks remain the norm in professional life. (Maruani 1995: 110).
In this last category of the 1960's, Ireland and Luxembourg shared some similarities, i.e. a discontinuous activity curve with an employment rate of around 25% for women aged between 25 and 49 years, followed by a small increase for the older age groups. Developments over the last 30 years have also been quite similar in these two counties. At the beginning of the 1990's, there was still a single peak curve, with a low level of employment for 25 year olds, but the employment levels are clearly higher than in 1960's. Thus, while career breaks remain the norm, women aged between 30 and 40 years are clearly more represented on the work market than those of previous generations.
The landscape of European women’s employment has been transformed over the last thirty years so that categories which best described developments at the beginning of the 1960's no longer faithfully portray the ways in which the female labour force in EU countries has evolved. In 1991, there were only four groups of countries :
However, whatever the point of departure or arrival, the same tendency can be found in all the EU countries:
Levels of female employment in the 25 - 49 age group continue to
increase in a significant, regular and systematic way. In this age
group, which previously constituted a lower level of female activity, there
are very high levels of employment, sometimes exceeding the rates of other
age groups. This is the case in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France,
Portugal, and Sweden. No country has escaped the changes which have led
to a double homogenisation: homogenisation of male and female employment
behaviour; more and more women have continuous careers which are not interrupted
When analysing women’s employment rates in different member countries of the European Union one often forgets that there are significant variations of these levels amongst working women in the same country. Recent research indicates that there are clearly several factors that differentiate the employment rates of women of the same nationality, the most significant being education and the family circumstances.
In general highly qualified women are better integrated into the labour market than their less qualified compatriots. Furthermore, the education level plays an even bigger role when women have children and other family responsibilities. (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1995, N? 6: 1). It is interesting to note that:
"taking into account the qualification levels creates new national similarities and disparities. Differences in the employment levels between countries is particularly pronounced in relation to poorly qualified women, much more than with regard to well educated women."(Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1995, N 6: 2).
Table 3 indicates that there is a very strong convergence between the employment rates of well qualified women in the different countries of the European community, while women who have not completed secondary education show a wider divergence. The difference in employment levels between highly qualified women and those with low levels of qualification is more pronounced in some countries than others. The difference in employment rates between well qualified and poorly qualified women is much wider in Spain, Greece and Italy than in the United Kingdom, for example. (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1995, N 6: 2).
Qualification levels not only influence women’s employment rates; there is also a correlation with employment patterns. Mother's participation of in full-time work increases in accordance with their level of qualification in all the EC countries; this is especially the case for women with higher education degrees. More than 45% of mothers with further education work full time in seven E.U. countries, while less than a third of mothers who did not finish school are in full-time work in all the countries except for Denmark (45%) and Portugal (61%).
n.a. = Data not available. Source: (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1995, N? 6: 8).
Graph 16 Full time and part time employment rates for mothers with at least one child under the age of 11 years, European Union, 1993.
Source: (Rubery et alii 1996 : 287).
However, the employment rate for part-time work increases in direct proportion to the level of qualification, except in the countries of Southern Europe, where this form of work is less frequent. There is a direct correlation between education levels and employment rates for the majority of mothers, in both full and part-time work. (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1995, N? 6: 4).
The influence of motherhood on employment rates is similar. The arrival of a baby affects women’s employment rates to a greater extent in some countries than in others. However,
National disparities in the levels of employment are maintained after motherhood even if the level of qualification of women is taken into account. Between countries the similarity between female employment rates is less for well educated women with children than those without children. (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1995, N? 6: 2).
As for women generally, the widest differences in the employment rates is between the least well qualified mothers. Women with further education have highest levels of employment for all mothers. This does not prevent a negative effect of motherhood on the professional activity of women even amongst those with the highest education levels, with the exception of Denmark (Table 3).
The impact of higher education on the employment rates of mothers varies from country to country ; its positive influence is particularly marked in five countries: Spain, Greece, Italy, Ireland, and the Netherlands. In these countries, the employment rates of mothers are twice as high for women with higher education degrees than for those with secondary education. (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1995, N? 6: 3).
The relationship between motherhood, employment rates and employment patterns varies from one country to another. Not only do mothers have different rates of full and part-time work (Graph 16), the time they spend in employment also varies according to the type of part-time work which dominates in their home country. In some countries, part time work involves very short working weeks, e.g. one third of part time jobs in the Netherlands include less than 10 hours work per week. The same is true for one quarter of part-time jobs in the United Kingdom and for one fifth of part-time jobs in Ireland and Spain. In other countries, part-time work may involve much longer hours, sometimes more than 25 hours per week, particularly in Denmark, (70% of mothers in part time work), in France (46%), Portugal (43%) and Greece (47%). (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1995, N? 6: 5).
Other factors which influence the rates and forms of mothers' employment are the number of children and the age of the youngest child. It is difficult to establish data which is both recent and reliable in this area, but Tables 4A and 4B demonstrate the influence of these two phenomena in the beginning of the 1990's. Table 4A confirms the fact that, in the majority of European countries, having a child is not an insurmountable obstacle to a career for women. In seven countries out of twelve, the employment rates for mothers with one child are even higher than the overall employment rate for women in the 20 to 59 years age bracket.
Source: (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1992, N? 1: 8).
Source: (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1992, N? 1: 8).
This indicates the generation effect which characterises female employment; namely that the category women without children includes both women who have never had children and older women who have had children at some point in their lives, but are no longer directly responsible for them. With the exception of Denmark, the rates of female employment drop significantly for mothers of three or more children. In the majority of countries, there is a much wider gap in employment levels between mothers with two children and those with three children than between mothers with two children and those with only one child. (Table 4A).
Variation in employment rates in relation to the age of the youngest child (Table 4B), correspond closely to the different models of economic participation as presented in part 2.2.2. In four countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, and Portugal) the continuous nature of women’s employment is reflected in the fact that high levels (62%) of women who have a young child (aged under 2 years old) are in employment.
This brief description of the factors which influence the rates and patterns of female employment in Europe helps to understand the key position occupied by part-time work in all the current debates about women’s employment in the E.U. The most obvious particularity of part time work is that it is an atypical form of employment which primarily affects women. About 80% of all part-time jobs in Europe are occupied by women. The term atypical is used in the following sections to refer to part-time work as a specific form of employment. It should however be remembered that what may be an atypical type of employment contract in any country may well be very typical for the women workers of that country.
Secondly, it is useful to note the variable nature of part time work in EU countries. In 1992, 64% of employed women in the Netherlands are in part-time work, 45% in the United Kingdom, 37% in Denmark, 34% in Germany, while only small proportions of women are in this form of employment in other countries: 8% in Greece, 10% in Finland, 12% in Portugal, and 14% in Spain. France (25%), Belgium (28%), Luxembourg (17%), and Ireland (19%) occupy an intermediary position in Europe (Table 5).
During the 1983-1992 period, 56% of new jobs created in the European Union were part-time jobs. This creation of part-time work not only concerns women. During this period, 54% of the job creations occupied by men were part time jobs, as opposed to 56% of new jobs occupied by women. Nevertheless, it is the case that over 75% of the new jobs created in Europe are occupied by women, who have largely caused the overall increase in the size of the European working population. (Rubery et alii 1996: 20).
There is no real consensus as to the meaning of the recent increase in part-time work. The debate on part time work is articulated around the following two positions :
Several different theoretical perspectives may be used to explain the different levels of part-time work in the different EU countries. It is generally admitted that this atypical form of employment is due to a combination of economic and institutional constraints which prevent women from entering the work place under the same conditions as men. (Pfau-Effinger 1993: 386). At least three analytical perspectives can be identified in contemporary research on this theme :
The management drive for increased flexibility constitutes one of strategies adopted by European business to cope with the increased competition linked to the globalisation process. The growth of part-time work has occurred in a context marked by the increased questioning of traditional labour relations in Europe. Due to their concentration in the service sector and the concomitant discrimination they face, women in particular suffer the effects of this drive for greater flexibility. Internal flexibility in a company favours hiring part-time staff whose work hours correspond to the most busy time for the business, e.g. supermarket cashiers working evening and weekend shifts, cleaners working after offices hours, etc.). Numerical flexibility allows business to control productivity and staff costs in line with demand, e.g. two individuals hired on a part-time basis give employers greater flexibility than one person employed on a full-time basis.
Part-time work is often synonymous with a lack of job security: in France of the 29% of women working part-time, nearly half (48%) are on short-term temporary contracts (INSEE 1995 : 133). According to the flexibility thesis, the different rates of part-time observed across the E.U. reflect the different levels of economic development in different E.U. countries. Companies which are best integrated into the world economy are more likely to seek greater labour flexibility than companies working within a national, regional or local context. Part-time work is therefore likely to be higher in countries with a high level of international commercial exchange. However, despite the obvious erosion of the traditional model of employment, this model, which stresses the demand effect of part-time work, does not provide a totally comprehensive explanation of women’s part-time work. Firstly, there has not been any systematic research comparing the different sectors concerned by part-time work in different European countries, i.e. is part-time work most prevalent in the public or private sector?, nor on the degree to which employers have adopted more flexible staff management policies. Also, as Table 6 indicates, it isn't necessarily in the countries where the female rate of employment is the highest that one finds the highest levels of forced part-time work. In such circumstances, it seems difficult to attribute the differences in women’s part-time employment rates solely to differences in the staff management policies of companies in various E.U. countries. (Pfau-Effinger 1993: 387).
Viewed form the supply-side perspective, the analysis of women’s part-time work stresses the importance of state intervention. State fiscal and family policies tend to create favourable conditions for the creation of full or part-time work for women. On the one hand, through its fiscal policy, i.e. joint or individual taxes for adults in one household, tax deductions for child care costs, etc., the State can favour or penalise dual earner couples where both partners are in full time work. In countries where the man is considered to be the head of the household, i.e. in the strong version of the male breadwinner model, the tax system is based on the household. Tax regimes which are based on the household rather than on the individual impose bigger taxes on any second wage than those imposed on the principal wage earner. In discouraging the full-time employment of spouses, these systems also tend to grant subsidies to households where the wives are either totally dependent on their spouse or where their length of work or their income does not exceed a certain threshold. (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1995, No 9: 4).
Family policies may also influence the forms of women’s employment. In countries where public child care facilities are non-existent or where the school day is very short (Table 13), mothers who wish to work have no other choice than to work part-time. It is therefore generally admitted that countries with a high rate of female part-time employment also have the lowest levels of public-funded child care facilities. However, this thesis has never been tested on the basis of systematic and comparable data. To do this, it would be necessary to consider the possible combination of formal and informal child care systems available to families and to evaluate the direct costs associated with access to collective child-care facilities in each country. Results would seem to suggest that the relation between the organisation of child care and the rate of women’s part-time work is less direct and linear than expected. This indicates the generation effect which characterises female employment; namely that the category women without children includes both women who have never had children and older women who have had children at some point in their lives, but are no longer directly responsible for them. With the exception of Denmark, the rates of female employment drop significantly for mothers of three or more children. In the majority of countries, there is a much wider gap in employment levels between mothers with two children and those with three children than between mothers with two children and those with only one child. (Table 4A).
(*) Not including the new Länder.
Table 6: % of part-time women workers who do not wish to work part-time, 1990.
(*) Not including the new Länder
Furthermore, it is important to note that, contrary to numerous myths which circulate about female part-time work, it is not women in the 25 to 49 age bracket, i.e. those at the child-bearing / child-rearing stage in their life-cycle, who are most often in part-time work. In some countries such as Denmark, France, Italy, and Greece, it is precisely in this age group that one finds the lowest levels of women in part-time work. In all the countries of the European Union, women aged below 25 years and those aged above 55 years are those most often found in part-time work It is the increase in part-time work in these age groups which best accounts for the recent large increases in part-time work in Europe. Although different forms of state intervention in family life play a significant role in creating favourable conditions for women’s full or part-time work, it would nevertheless be difficult to explain the disparities in the levels of women’s part-time employment solely in terms of the public fiscal and family policy in the different European countries.
The third way of analysing the differences in female part-time employment rates in Europe is based on a different point of view to the two previous demand and supply-side perspectives. It questions the type of causal relationship that is usually postulated in research on part-time work and starts from the point of view of women themselves. While not denying the interest of traditional analysis which show how women may be forced into part-time work due to various constraints, this approach uses the gender contract idea to broaden the analysis to the cultural basis of this atypical type of work in different national contexts. As discussed above, the idea of a gender contract suggests that a specific consensus about gender norms exists in every national context. Birgit Pfau-Effinger (1993) questions the implicit hypotheses of traditional research in this field. Rather than starting from the idea that all mothers would choose to work full-time if they were not prevented from doing so by the absence of public child care facilities or by public policies which favour women’s part-time work, Pfau-Effinger suggests that the social construction of motherhood and femininity in different national contexts also has an effect on women’s desire to adopt different employment patterns. According to Pfau-Effinger, the characteristics of any nationally or historically specific gender contract do not only exist at an institutional level, e.g. as expressed through work organisation or public policy. They are also present in the minds of all the members of that society; anchored in the mental and symbolic representations of all social actors. These collective representations are organised into a relatively coherent vision of what is and should be considered normal for a woman or a man to do in each societal context.
In societies which have a differentiated gender contract based on a strong version of the male breadwinner model, members of that society will be socialised to accept the traditional sexual division of labour as normal. They will come to believe, for example, that young children really are better off when their own mother looks after them at home. Societies characterised by this form of gender contract will thus experience high levels of female part-time employment and/or discontinuous economic activity rates and the vast majority of women will believe that it is in their own and their children’s best interests that they sacrifice their career aspirations during their child-rearing years. This belief will be further reinforced by the gendered staff management practices adopted in the public and private sectors, which will also reflect this hegemonic national value system. Far from being forced into part-time work through a combination of various material, economic or political constraints, women will play an active role in choosing this form of employment, because it is compatible with the system of values and beliefs about the gender order that each individual member of that society will naturally come to recognise as legitimate and thus assimilate into his/her own world vision. This idea reflects the concept of the gender doxa found in the work of the French sociologists Pierre Bourdieu (1990) and Monique Haicault (1992, 1993).
Pfau-Effinger (1993) does not claim that this gender order perspective should supersede all previous attempts to explain differences in the way part-time work is conceived and practised in different European countries, she does suggest that this perspective offers a useful framework for explaining, at least in part, differences in the proportion of women who work part-time and those who declare that they occupy part-time jobs under some form of constraint (Table 6). In order to test Pfau-Effinger's hypothesis more fully one would also need to know the proportion of full-time women workers who would prefer to work part-time and the number of women at home who would like to work either full or part-time.
It is worth noting that which ever analytical perspective is adopted, international comparisons of part-time work must allow for the fact that there is a huge diversity of experience of part-time work in Europe. In certain countries, part-time work is very part time, while, in other countries, the majority of part-time workers undertake 80% of a full-time job. It is clear that, whatever the country, the number of hours worked in part-time jobs varies according to the sector and professional status. We should remember that the economic and social consequences of part-time work are far from identical for the women concerned.
The opposition between the reconciliation theory of part-time work, i.e. women choose to work part-time in order to reconcile their professional and domestic responsibilities and the flexibility theory, i.e. employers force women into part-time work in order to improve productivity, is not really very useful for discussing part-time work given the diversity of women’s experiences. Whether one adopts a reconciliation or a flexibility perspective, it remains that women are socially designated as the typical part-time worker. Even if this form of work allows some women to enter or stay on the job market, part-time work nevertheless constitutes one of the major ways in which women’s career prospects and promotion opportunities are limited.
In economic terms, the ambivalence of part-time work raises a supplementary issue. The nature of any part-time employment contract, in terms of working conditions, will depend of the laws of supply and demand. Part-time employment is not only a question of the number of hours to be worked, it also raises the issue of the organisation of employment and remuneration. Part-time work should be seen in the context of current economic changes, in particular the increase in unemployment, in the European Union. According to the Employment in Europe survey carried out in 1995, 22% of young women aged under 24 years old and 20.5% of young men are unemployed. These rates were 18.6% and 16.9% in 1992. For women in the 25-49 year old age bracket, this rate is 12.2%, as opposed to 9.7% for men. In such circumstances is it possible for a young women to turn down the offer of a part-time job even if she would prefer to work full-time? Is it possible for a working mother whose husband is unemployed to leave a full-time job even if she would rather work part-time ? One should not ignore this aspect of forced part-time work, i.e. part-time work rather than unemployment, part-time work rather than redundancy.
On the reconciliation issue, recent research reveals the paradox of employers' position on this subject. Although employers often declare that part-time work has developed in response to women’s desire to reconcile domestic and professional responsibilities, they frequently offer evening and weekend working hours, with no effort to organise part-time shifts in the best interests of their employees and their families. Private sector firms with high levels of part-time jobs can often be characterised by the large proportion of women they employ and by the low salary rates they offer. This is particularly the case in areas such as catering, sales, and food manufacturing.
Whether it is freely chosen by women or forced upon them, part-time work should be analysed within the general context of the labour market, i.e. in relation to the normal working week. Part-time work implies several consequences which part time workers can not control and that they unlikely to be in a position to negotiate with their employers on an individual basis. These include: low pay, increased work loads, low levels of trade union membership, lack of promotion prospects, reduced pension benefits, etc. Employers inflexibility with regard to the distribution of the working hours of part-time workers will have consequences on their travelling costs to and from work, as well as on their ability to manage family life and child care in relation to their jobs.
The complexity and ambiguity of the issue of part-time work should be stressed. Part-time work is a phenomenon which encompasses such diverse realities. The features of part-time work have led some authors to describe it as the principle source of discrimination against women (Bihr and Pfefferkorn 1996 : 67). There are obvious dangers in to a too hasty and partial analysis of part-time work, which encompasses diverse realities, but one should equally beware of arguments in favour of women’s part-time work in the name of their right to choose. A certain number of women do choose to work part-time and they declare themselves satisfied with this kind of work. Equally, a not insignificant number of women would like to switch from full-time to part-time work. However, given the lack of change in the sexual division of domestic labour and the unequal burden of domestic and family responsibilities that women continue to bear in the private sphere (see part 2.4), we should recognise that part-time work is, at best, a choice under constraint. Various sources of European data clearly indicate that the spouses of part-time workers contribute much less to domestic work than do the spouses of women working full-time. In many cases, the time part-time women workers gain on the labour market is directly lost again through the increase in their share of domestic labour.
Although unemployment rates vary widely from country to country, from 3.5% in Luxembourg to 24% in Spain, Table 7 shows that women’s unemployment rate is higher than men’s everywhere in the E.U., with the exception of Sweden and the United Kingdom. This situation persists despite the fact that women tend to work in the tertiary sector, which has been less affected by the massive redundancies of recent years than the male dominated industrial sector.
Table 8 indicates the particular employment difficulties faced by young women in Europe, i.e. their unemployment rate is twice as high as the rate for older women, 21.2% as opposed to 11.1% for women in the E.U. overall. With the exception of Germany and Austria, all the EU countries have a problem with high unemployment amongst young women and those women trying to enter the job market for the first time are especially hard hit by unemployment. In Spain, more than half of the young women aged below 25 years old were seeking work in 1994.
Interpreting and comparing these data is far from easy. Firstly, societies with a strong version of the male breadwinner model of the gender contract are likely to consider the absence of certain categories of women, i.e. wives and mothers with young children, from the labour market as legitimate. Thus, women in these categories may well be without a job, but they will not be considered and will probably not consider themselves to be unemployed in the same way as a man in similar circumstances would be. Secondly, according to the rules of the unemployment benefits system in a given country, women who are seeking work are more or less likely to register as unemployed.
18.104.22.168. Unemployment benefit
Unemployment benefit systems vary considerably from one European country to another (Table 8). Each country defines its own conditions of access to benefits. As with other areas of the Welfare State, unemployment benefit rights were initially founded on the male breadwinner model. In countries where this model persists, unemployment benefits are usually only awarded to those with a continuous type of employment pattern and/or to those who have previously worked for the minimum numbers of hours per week required to qualify for benefits. Thus women who have had a career break or who were previously working part-time may find it very difficult to fulfil the conditions needed to receive unemployment benefit. In some countries, only job seekers looking for full-time work are counted in the national unemployment statistics.
The United Kingdom case is particularly edifying in this regard. To be officially considered unemployed in this country, a person has to prove to the official handling her application than he/she is available to start work 24 hours from receiving a job offer. Since a change in the legislation in 1989, those who have been unemployed for more than 13 weeks no longer have the right to make conditions as to the nature, hours, remuneration or location of a possible job without risk of losing their benefits. In a country where publicly-funded child-care facilities are almost non existent and where private child-care provision is very onerous, it is extremely difficult for British mothers seeking employment to fulfil these conditions and to register as unemployed. (Hegewisch 1995: 13). Even when they are officially registered as unemployed, British women have less chance of receiving unemployment benefits than their male counterparts, since this right is only given to those who had previously been in full-time employment for at least 2 years and whose income has reached the minimum level of National Health Insurance contributions. In 1994, a third of working British women and two thirds of part time workers had incomes below this level. (Hegewisch 1995: 14). In several countries, unemployment benefits, especially long term benefits, are dependent upon the resources of the household. In this case women benefit less from the system than men because, given the salary differentials which will be discussed in point 2.3.8., it is likely that their spouse will have sufficient income to make the women themselves ineligible for benefits. When a man becomes unemployed, his benefits will also be dependent on the household income. however, the revenue brought in from his wife's job may not be sufficient, especially if she works part-time, to cover the needs of the household. The working wives of unemployed men may therefore be forced to give up their jobs so that the man can claim his full entitlement to unemployment benefit. (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U., 1996, No.9: 4).
(*) Including the new Länder 1 Data from 1993
Source: (Rubery et alii 1996 : 291).
(*) Including the new Länder 1 Data from 1993
Source: Rubery (et alii) (1996) Women and the European Employment Rate: 301.
(% of unemployed persons receiving unemployment benefits)
n/a. Data not available (*) Including the new Länder 1 Data from 1990
Source: (Rubery et alii 1996 : 304).
Tableau 10: Salary differences between men and women (excluding public sector employment) in Europe, 1991
(average female salary as % of average male salary)
(*) Not including the new Länder. n/a. data not available 1 Data from 1985
Source: Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. N? 5, October 1994: 8.
For all the reasons noted above, female unemployment in the European Union is higher than the rates indicated in official statistics. To define this phenomenon more accurately, it might be useful to think about it in terms of the under employment of the female working age population. This expression includes job seekers, including those who for one reason or another are excluded from official statistics, people who want to work but are unable to provide the proof that they actively looking for a job, as well as those who work part-time but would prefer a full-time job. (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1996, No.8: 6).
Whatever the gender differences in unemployment rates, women experience longer periods of unemployment than their male counterparts. In 1991, 33% of unemployed men in Europe had found work within 12 months, as against 28% of women. In Greece, Spain and Portugal, women were particularly disadvantaged in relation to men in that at least 10% more women than men had not found work after one year. (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1996, No.8: 6).
Although women have less chance of moving from an unemployed to an employed status than men, they are clearly more likely than their male counterparts to move from official to unofficial unemployment, disappearing from statistics without actually having found a job. This is particularly the case in countries where women have discontinuous economic activity patterns. In Germany, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands at the beginning of the 1990's, more than one third of officially unemployed women had become unofficially unemployed one year later.
Despite various legislative measure in favour of equal pay in all the European countries, gender based inequalities continue to exist. The size of these discrepancies varies from country to country and according to employment status, i.e. manual or non-manual employment (Table 10). Female manual workers receive between 67% in the UK and 84% in Denmark of the average male manual worker's income. The difference between salaries for non-manual workers is even more pronounced. Non-manual women workers only receive two thirds of the average male salary in four countries, Germany, Greece, France and Portugal and this falls to around 60% in Ireland and the UK. (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1994, No.5: 1).
Between 1980 and 1991, the wage gap between men and women decreased slightly in the majority of European countries, but there were nevertheless three countries, i.e. Denmark, Italy, and the UK, where the salary level differences between the sexes increased during the same period. Along with the relatively low average salary of women, this means that women are over-represented amongst low wage earners. The proportion of women workers with an income of less than 66% of the national average wage varies from 49% in Portugal to 82% in Germany. The financial situation of women is even more worrying given that:
"these figures underestimate the real occurrence of low wages amongst women since they exclude part-time workers and those in the underground economy, which is largely made up of women". (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1994, No.5: 2).
The proportion of women on low wages and the proportion of people on low pay amongst the working population are closely linked to the wage bargaining systems used in each national context. Women are the prime beneficiaries of wage regulation in countries which have a statutory minimum wage and/or where collective wage bargaining also covers the highly feminized employment sectors. (Graph 17). However, in many countries, this kind of collective bargaining can be widespread in the industrial sector but not apply to the other sectors of work such as the direct services sector, which account for a large part of the female work force.
Graph 17: Systems of wage bargaining in the European Union
Source: (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. N? 5, October 1994: 4).
There is a strong correlation between salary differentials and the gendered segregation of the labour market in all European countries. As discussed in part 2.3 of this chapter, the female working population is densely concentrated in certain sectors of activity and in certain professions. There is a horizontal division of the labour market and it is precisely in the most feminized sectors that the levels of remuneration are the lowest, However, the wage effects of working in a highly feminized sector vary quite considerably from country to country.(Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1994, No.5 : 4). Vertical segregation of the labour market, i.e. the concentration of women in the lower echelons of the professional hierarchy, reinforces the effects of horizontal segregation and also accounts of women’s low wages.
By way of a conclusion to the second part of this chapter it is worth noting that:
The forms of women’s employment are only partly explained by the individual features of working women, their level of training or their family responsibilities; the social environment also plays its part. Employment and tax policy, like any action by employers and trade unions, effects women’s access to paid work, the organisation and remuneration of this type of work, and the distribution of unpaid work. Disparities in the different European Union countries in the organisation of the labour market, Welfare system, child care facilities and social attitudes, continue to cause divergent and heterogeneous forms of women’s integration into the European job markets. (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1993, No.6: 6).