Women, Work and Employment in Europe

2.3 The Sexual Division of the Labour Market

A more detailed analysis of the reality of European women at work should also take the differentiated position of men and women on the labour market, i.e. the gender division of labour, into account. The gender division of labour takes two distinct forms, i.e. "horizontal" and "vertical" segregation.

2.3.1. Horizontal segregation

Horizontal segregation refers to the concentration of women in certain sectors of the economy. Traditionally, analysis of this form of segregation starts with a review of the distribution of men and women in the three broadest economic sectors: the primary sector, i.e. agriculture and mining, the secondary sector, i.e. industrial production and manufacturing and the tertiary sector, i.e. services. Throughout the evolution of industrial societies, there has been an increase in the proportion of the working population concentrated in the tertiary sector.

This phenomenon is particularly marked for the female working population (Table 11). Throughout the 1980's and 1990's, the majority of new jobs are in the service sector, while agriculture has considerably down-sized and manufacturing has at best maintained a stable work force level. This evolution corresponds to the historical period marked by the massive arrival of women on the labour market in most European countries. Far from having ejected men from positions which they traditionally occupied, as those who make women responsible for the recent increases in unemployment would like us to believe, women have been swept into the new jobs created during this period.

As Table 11 indicates, the proportion of women in the tertiary sector varies from country to country, ranging from 55.6% in Denmark to 36.7% in Greece, but it is always higher than the proportion of women in the labour market as a whole. The current restructuring of the labour market should, in theory, have led to changes in the traditional gender segregation of the labour market. In practice, recent developments have done little to transform the position of women in the labour market.

Women have only entered traditionally male jobs in those sectors which have expanded in size. Elsewhere, in sectors with a stable work force, segregation between the sexes has stayed the same or even increased (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1993, No.3 : 2). Similarly, when the number of jobs has increased in the most feminized sectors, this increase has particularly benefited women. The proportion of women in these jobs has thus increased and women are now more highly concentrated in jobs which were previously classified as 'female' than ever before. When the size of a traditionally male employment sector has remained stable or decreased, the male / female correlation in these sectors is practically unchanged. (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1993, No.3: 2). There are several nationally specific exceptions to this general pattern. In counties which have seen a sharp rise in women's employment rates over the 1980's from a very low starting point, there has been an increase in female employment in the secondary or industrial sector. This is the case in Spain, Greece, and Portugal. Even here, the increases in women's share of secondary sector jobs do not match changes in the tertiary sector.

Table 11: The segregation of female employment by sector, E.U. 12, 1990

(% of women employed in each sector)

 

Country

 

Agriculture

 

Industry

 

Services

 

Total

 

Germany (*)

43.9%

25.4%

50.8%

40.4%

Belgium

26.0%

19.4%

46.4%

45.9%

Denmark

23.1%

26.8%

55.6%

45.9%

Spain

27.1%

16.8%

42.1%

31.9%

Finland

32.8%

27.0%

59.8%

48.7%

France

34.4%

24.8%

51.8%

42.5%

Greece

44.5%

23.5%

36.7%

35.2%

Ireland

10.4%

21.8%

45.2%

33.1%

Italy

35.4%

24.5%

39.4%

34.2%

Luxembourg

33.3%

10.9%

45.7%

34.4%

The Netherlands

27.3%

16.0%

47.0%

37.9%

Portugal

49.7%

31.8%

46.6%

42.1%

United Kingdom

22.7%

23.2%

53.9%

43.2%

E12

35.3%

23.6%

48.4%

39.2%

(*) Excluding the new Länder.

Source: (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1993, N? 2: 3 and for Finland, Statistics Finland, 1995, Women and Men in Finland, Living Conditions 1, Helsinki).

2.3.2. Vertical Segregation

Vertical segregation is the concentration or the over-representation of women in certain levels of the professional hierarchy. This dimension of the gender division of labour should be analysed in light of women's access to higher education and training. Although the role played by formal qualification in obtaining the most prestigious posts varies from country to country, the qualifications lever has proved a key influence on women's access to the most prestigious professions. In all European countries, women access to higher education facilitates their access to the most prestigious positions in the social and professional hierarchy. As Table 12 shows, women are proportionally more represented than their male counterparts, 19% of working women as opposed to 16% working men, in the scientific, technical and liberal professions, although they still only represent 45% of the work force in these areas.

The richest countries in the European Union have a greater proportion of people working in these sectors and this in turn influences the number of women who have access to such positions. There is, however, no statistical proof of a direct correlation between women's employment rates and the their access to the most prestigious levels of the professional hierarchy. It is not necessarily in the countries which have the highest female employment rates, nor in those countries where working women tend to adopt continuous employment career patterns, that women's access to the top of the professional hierarchy is highest.

The relatively privileged position of women working in the professions only concerns 19% of working women in the European labour market. This access to the most prestigious levels of the labour market should be analysed in relation to another fundamental characteristic of women's employment, i.e. the strong concentration of women in the caring professions, especially in the public sector. Even when women attain senior positions thanks to their qualifications, they do not necessarily work in the same professions as men and do not experience the same working conditions as men.

Education is an excellent example of the differentiated distribution of men and women within one professional area. Firstly, the number of women teachers in category 1 (see Table 12) varies enormously from country to country. Thus more than 60% of the women in this category are teachers in a country like Portugal and Portugal has the highest proportion of women working in education, while less than 20% of women in this category in Denmark are teachers. Education constitutes one of the biggest employers of well educated women across Europe. In 1990, the education sector accounted for between 5% and 12% of women's employment in the different member states. With the exception of the Netherlands, the majority of European teachers are women. However one still finds that men clearly predominate in university education, while women are mainly concentrated in primary and secondary education. This reflects the idea that women's natural abilities are mobilised and transferred from the private sphere to the education of young children as a professional activity. Wage levels are a key factor in explaining the number of men working in education. Women are less likely than their male counterparts to be discouraged from a career in teaching, even when the wage levels of this sector are particularly low. In some countries, the recent increase in the number of women teachers coincides with the a significant drop in the relative wage levels of the education sector.

Table 12: Distribution of men and women by employment category, E.U. 11, 1990

 

Employment categories

 

Women's employment/ Men's employment

(in %)

 

Employment category's share of labour market

 

   

Women
(in %)

Men
(in %)

1. Scientific, technical and liberal professions lawyers, teachers, nurses, scientists, etc.

 

45/55

 

19%

 

16%

2. Directors and Management managers, senior executives, etc.

 

23/77

 

2%

 

4%

3. Non-Manual Administrative Staff secretaries, cashiers, office staff, etc.

 

64/36

 

30%

 

11%

4. Business and Sales including shop managers

49/51

 

12%

 

9%

5. Direct and Indirect Services

police, hairdressers, cleaners, etc.

 

66/34

 

20%

 

7%

6. Farmers and agricultural labourers

 

34/66

 

5%

 

7%

7 . Manual Workers.

workers in production, construction, etc. excluding agricultural labourers

 

16/84

 

12%

 

45%

8. Armed forces

 

-/100

 

-

 

1%

Total Employment (EU 11 countries)(*)

 

41/59

 

100%

 

100%

(*) With the exception of Italy

Source: (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1993, N? 3: 2). 

It would seem that the low salary levels of teaching discourages well educated men from choosing this profession. The attraction of this profession for women can not be explained in terms of the compatibility between teaching and family responsibilities. Not only do the working hours of teachers vary enormously from country to country, but men also often predominated amongst teachers with the shortest working hours. In the Netherlands, for example, part time teaching is very common, but 60% of all teachers are men. (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1993, N? 3: 3).

In all EU countries, women are increasingly gaining access to professions which were previously considered as ìmale bastionsî, but it is worth considering this in relation to the recent expansion of qualified jobs in the public sector. Women's access to the most prestigious levels of the professional hierarchy is directly related to the number of positions in the social services, health and education sectors, i.e. in the public sector. The example of women's access to the management categories of the public sector is the result of a number of underlying and sometimes contradictory tendencies.

Firstly, in so far as access to public sector management jobs in most European countries depends on relatively objective criteria, i.e. holding a university degree, or passing recruitment exams, women are less likely to experience the same degree of direct sexual discrimination in access to high level public sector jobs as they may encounter in the private sector, where recruitment procedures are less formal. In some EU countries, the State as employer has played a leading role in implementing its own equal opportunity legislation. Secondly, working conditions in the public sector offer a number of advantages to women who wish to combine a professional career with domestic and family responsibilities, e.g. more flexible working hours, more paid holiday and child-care leave. Thirdly, surveys reveal women's positive attitude to the idea of public service, they aspire to being useful to society and to doing a job that helps the underprivileged. Such ideals are more easily expressed in public than in private sector jobs.

However, public sector employment also has its down-side. The relative lack of direct competition with men for access to high level posts and for promotion in this sector is accompanied by lower salaries and fringe benefits than for comparable positions in the private sector, which men often prefer. In the UK and Germany, for example, the increased access of women to senior public sector jobs goes hand in hand with a decrease in public sector salaries as compared to the private sector. Women in senior public sector positions in France and Italy are generally better qualified than their male counterparts. Data from Germany, Spain and France also show that, in several male dominated professions such as scientific research, engineering, etc., the proportion of women is much higher in the public than private sector. It would appear that women do not want to or can not compete with men on the terms and conditions prevalent in the private sector. This concentration of highly qualified women in the public sector is a double edged sword; although they may find better employment and promotion chances in the public sector, it is at the price of lower monetary reward for their intellectual and professional abilities.

This analysis of the small minority of women managers and professionals should not overshadow the reality of the vast majority of women workers in the European Union, who usually work at the bottom of the social and professional hierarchy. As Table 12 indicates, more than 60% of working women in Europe, as opposed to less than 30% of men, are employed in the following three categories: low grade administrative work, sales and direct services. In all countries, with the exception of Spain and Luxembourg, women occupy over half of the low paid administrative jobs, secretaries, office staff, etc.. In Denmark, France and the UK, women occupy more than 70% of these positions. Women are much less likely to be employed in manual jobs. Only 12% of the female working population are in manual employment as against 45% of the male working population.

A detailed analysis of the positions occupied by women in the direct services sector serves to illustrate the complexity of the mechanisms which reproduce the sexual division of labour. The feminization of the service sector is not only a reflection of the transfer to the labour market of the qualities women possess through their domestic socialisation. The example of cooks and bar staff is interesting. While few men invest time in the preparation and presentation of meals in the domestic sphere (see Table 14), they account for more than 40% of cooks and bar staff on the European labour market. Here cultural traditions play an important role in the distribution of men and women between jobs and their relative status at work. One of the lowest levels of feminization of cooks and bar staff is found in France, where the cultural importance attached to cuisine and the continued existence of small-scale family business restaurants has enabled men to defend their monopoly control over the most noble positions in this sector, while the less prestigious activities, such as school canteens, are frequently delegated to women. Another example of the gender norms at work in the social construction of female jobs and male jobs is that of bar staff. In Ireland and the UK, the proportion of women working as bar staff and cooks is comparable, but women represent 20% of bar staff in Ireland and 70% in the UK. This brief comparison of different forms of gender segregation in the labour market reveals the similarities across Europe :

"Women's jobs are characterised by the roles of carers and educators, while men have a monopoly on heavy manual, technical and management tasks. Overall, women have increased their proportion of work in positions which have grown in size in the 1980's, especially in the areas of management, intellectual professions and administration. Highly qualified women have entered the professions and reduced male domination in these areas. This shows a positive tendency towards desegregation in all the member States, regardless of the national female employment rate. At the same time segregation within the professions is evident, with women more orientated towards the caring professions and the public sector. The male / female ratio has hardly changed in professions where the levels of employment have remained the same or decreased." (Bulletin on Women and Employment in the E.U. 1993, N? 3: 6).

Overall national differences persist and new developments are emerging in each society. By way of conclusion to the third part of this chapter, it is worth underlining the nefarious effects of the gender segregation of the labour market in terms of women's working conditions. The tendency towards a strong concentration of the female work force in certain sectors and at certain levels of the hierarchy helps to explain, at least in part, the size of salary differentials between men and women. Vertical and horizontal segregation considerably complicate the efficient implementation of legislation in favour of wage equality between men and women whether on a national or a European level. However, the correlation between feminization and low wages is difficult to analyse accurately. Is it the influx of female women into a sector or specific profession that puts downward pressure on the salary scales, pressure which is justified by more or less explicit reference to the "male breadwinner model", or is it the fact that men are more successful than women in avoiding sectors and professions with low pay levels which produces high levels of feminization in these professions? The debate is open and more systematic research is required.

Tableau 13: The proportion of men who do no domestic tasks at all, according to themselves and to their spouses, Europe, 1990

 

Country

 

According to the men themselves

 

According to their spouses

Germany (East)

42.7%

62.7%

Germany (West)

60.7%

71.1%

Belgium

60.8%

61.0%

Denmark

51.1%

47.5%

Spain

76.6%

79.7%

France

58.4%

60.7%

Greece

47.2%

49.8%

Ireland

84.0%

31.9%

Italy

55.6%

60.2%

Luxembourg

58.9%

64.9%

Netherlands

45.7%

46.2%

Portugal

71.9%

69.3%

United Kingdom

74.2%

70.6%

E12

61.6%

65.4%

Source: (Kempeneers, M. et Leliëvre, E., "Famille et emploi dans l'Europe des Douze", Eurobaromëtre 34: Modes de vie dans la Communau´è europèenne, Rapport, December, 1991).

 

Tableau 14: Nature of the domestic tasks carried out by the men who occasionally "help out" in the home, according to their spouses, EU, 1990

 

Country

 

Shopping

 

Washing up

 

Transport children

 

Dress children

 

Cooking

 

Cleaning

 

Germany (East)

64%

53%

48%

27%

23%

27%

Germany (West)

70%

46%

30%

21%

22%

34%

Belgium

49%

55%

35%

26%

29%

29%

Denmark

39%

55%

23%

32%

36%

26%

Spain

48%

25%

42%

57%

30%

29%

France

48%

48%

49%

38%

37%

35%

Greece

91%

16%

16%

22%

20%

13%

Ireland

16%

18%

72%

14%

10%

7%

Italy

69%

5%

39%

30%

23%

12%

Netherlands

53%

66%

6%

28%

28%

34%

Portugal

75%

37%

36%

35%

39%

26%

United Kingdom

51%

72%

26%

37%

48%

42%

E12

59%

42%

35%

31%

30%

29%

Source: (Kempeneers, M. et Leliëvre, E., "Famille et emploi dans l'Europe des Douze", Eurobaromëtre 34: Modes de vie dans la Communau´è europèenne, Rapport, December, 1991).

 

Women's labour market experiences cannot be adequately explained without reference to another type of sexual division of labour, that in the so called "private" or domestic sphere.