Rising education levels and job opportunities have made more women career-minded, and the
economic necessity of being self-supporting or contributing to the family income left some
women little choice but to find a paying job.
A central theme is that women‟s work has been undervalued and poorly rewarded throughout
history. A word of clarification before we proceed. To avoid confusion, we should define how
we use the terms sex and gender. Sex is the biological distinction and gender is socially
constructed. We tend to prefer the term gender, given that male-female differences in
employment are almost solely a product of socially created gender roles and ideologies.
Women’s Economic Role in Historical Context
Although history has for the most part been written from the perspective of men, even a quick
glance back to the past reveals that women have always performed a vital, if somewhat
unacknowledged, economic role. Native women, for example, were indispensable to the fur trade
during Canada‟s colonial period.
During the 19 century, women looked after all domestic work associated with child rearing,
tending the livestock and garden, making clothes, and preparing food.
Industrialization and Women’s Work.
In Chapter 1 we noted that one consequence of the rise of large-scale factory production was a
growing separation between men and women‟s work. Marjorie Cohen‟s feminist analysis of
economic development in 19 century Ontario reveals that, prior to industrialization, an
integration of family and household existed within the emerging market economy.
Traditional theories of industrialization ignore the contribution of households to the economy.
Women‟s household labour fulfilled two functions – generating family income by producing
agricultural goods to sell and performing the domestic chores necessary for survival.
Cohen‟s research underlines the importance of examining how the public and private spheres of
market and household have been intertwined in diverse ways during all the phases of economic
By focusing only on paid employment, we risk ignoring the work activities of the vast majority
of women during this era. The unpaid domestic labour of women – raising the future generation
of workers and feeding, clothing, and caring for the present generation of workers – was an
essential function within capitalism.
Out of competing pressures on women emerged a gendered division of labour that persists today.
As we document below, this now takes the form of the double day or the second shift, whereby
most married women spend their days in paying jobs, yet still assume most of the responsibilities
of childcare and domestic chores when they get home. Industrialization accentuated age and gender divisions in the economy.
Given the scarcity of wage labour for wives because of strong sanctions against their
employment, such women could make a greater contribution to the family economy by being
household managers. Wives basically stretched the wages of their husbands and daughters as far
The Family Wage Ideology
Powerful social values justified this division of labour. Especially influential in perpetuating
women‟s subordinate role as unpaid family workers was the ideology of the family wage. As
working class men began organizing unions to achieve better wages and working conditions, one
of the labour movement‟s demands was that wages should be high enough to allow a male
breadwinner to support a wife and children.
The labour movement‟s successes in this regard had the effect of drastically reducing women‟s
presence, and the cheap labour they provided, in the workplace. There was the restriction of
women‟s labour market opportunities to areas in which they would not compete directly with
men – hence the endurance of the term male breadwinner.
Jo Parr carried out case studies based on two Ontario industrial towns, Paris and Hanover. Her
study shows the variations in outcome within the broad contours of gendered work patterns.
There were a number of prominent themes.
1. Although widespread participation in the paid labour force is a recent development,
women have always made essential economic contributions.
2. Women‟s entry into paid employment occurred in ways that reproduced their subordinate
position in society.
3. The changing interconnections among households, families and the wage labour mastet
are crucial to understanding women‟s roles in the continuing evolution of 21 century
Female Labour Force Participation Patterns
Virtually all industrial nations have experienced rising female labour force participation rates
since the end of World War II. Canada experienced the largest change, followed by Australia and
the United States (see Figure 4.1). The expansion of white-collar service sector jobs, coupled
with rising education levels and a declining birthrate, drew millions of Canadian women into
Influences on Women’s Employment
What social and economic factors account for this remarkable increase in participation rates?
The baby boom generation was completing its education and flooding into an expanding job
market. Women were becoming better educated with more aspirations. Traditional stereotypes
were being reduced. The growth of feminism contributed to more liberal social values. Part-time
jobs were also increasing. Shrinking family size allowed married women to pursue employment.
Divorce rates were growing which forced women to find a source of income. Declining living
standards made a second income necessary. Since the 1950s, there is now much greater variety, fluidity and idiosyncrasy in women‟s roles.
Jones, Marsden and Tepperman, defined the individualization process by these elements:
1. Variety through greater opportunities for employment and education
2. Fluidity in terms of increased movement among these roles and domestic roles
3. Idiosyncrasy, in the sense that it is now exceedingly difficult to predict whether, when
and where a woman will be working for pay
Hakim has suggested women choose one of three patterns:
Location and personal characteristics also influences work patterns. Among youth, single women
are less likely to work for pay because most of them are full-time students. However 80% of
single women aged 25- 44 are in the labour force.
Women with higher levels of educational attainment are also more active in the labour force.
Family situation also matters, for example 71% of mothers with preschool children participate in
the labour force.
Financial necessity is a major factor, often the most important one. For many single mothers,
finding or keeping a job may be difficult, given such factors as lower educational attainment and
difficulties arranging childcare.
Work and Family
Some experts argue that women‟s inequality is the result of two systems of domination:
capitalism and patriarchy. Capitalism incorporated earlier patriarchal social arrangements.
Remnants of patriarchy still reinforce stereotypes of women as cheap, expendable labour.
Changing Family Forms
Because most wives in the 1950s and 1960s responded to the demands of child rearing by
leaving the labour force, employers assumed that women must have weaker attachment to paid
work than men. Similar family constraints on employment for women still exist.
However, now many more women are juggling paid work with family roles. Dual family earners
now make up ¾ of all husband/wife families. At the same time, the number of lone-parent
families is on the rise.
The Domestic Division of Labour
Has there been a similar shift in the gender division of household chores and caregiving?
Evidence from time budget studies, which ask people to record in detail how they spend their
time, leads to the conclusion that, despite some change, many working women still work the
Beyond gender, there are other important variations in the domestic division of labour. In
addition to age and education – younger and university educated women tend to have less traditional roles. Studies have identified single parenthood, gender ideologies, and women‟s
relative earnings as influencing time spend on household tasks and how these are divided.
Eldercare, is also a pressing issue, and there are predictions of a “caregiving crunch” as fewer
women are available to meet such demands because of their own jobs. Eldercare is still highly
gendered, with women twice as likely as men to provide personal care.
The federal government introduced Compassionate Care benefits in 2004, which provide eight
weeks of paid leave to care for an ill family member.
Balancing Work and Family
The strain between the change in women and the absence of change in much else leads Arlie
Hochschild to speak of a „stalled revolution’. One consequence of this stalled revolution is the
rise of job-family conflict – or what is also called work-life conflict. Higgins (2001) found rising
levels of role overload (an excess of demands), work to family conflict (where work interferes
with family life), and family to work conflict (where family responsibilities interfere with work).
Juggling work and family can affect one‟s quality of life and health. Mothers report much higher
levels of stress than fathers.
Of all types of support, quality childcare is perhaps the most pressing need. According to the
2008 Early Childhood Education and Care in Canada Report, child care arrangements present an
ongoing problem for many parents.
Gender Segregation in the Labour Market
Occupational gender segregation refers to the concentration of men and women in different
Female Job Ghettos
Female job ghettos typically offer little economic security and little opportunity for
advancement, furthermore, the work is often unpleasant, boring and sometimes physically
taxing. Women in job ghettos lack ready access to the more challenging and lucrative
occupations dominated by men. These male segments of the labour market operate as shelters,
conferring advantages on workers within them through entrance restrictions.
It is important to recognize that job opportunities determine an individual‟s living standards,
prospects, and overall quality of life – in Max Weber‟s words, her or his life chances.
One of the fundamental mechanisms underlying segmentation is the gender labelling of jobs,
employers do not always make hiring decisions on rational grounds.
Trends in Labour Market Segregation
Health occupations have very high concentrations of women. So do occupations in
business/finance/administration. Social sciences and government services occupations are just
over 68% female. There is a growing body of research on the gendered nature of nonstandard work. Linked to
gender, there is also a racial dimension. Visible minority women, often recent immigrants are
employed in some of the most economically marginal forms of work, in family-run businesses,
domestic labour, or the garment industry. The most feminized form of nonstandard work is
Interestingly, clerical work was one of the few traditionally male jobs to undergo this
feminization process. Behind this change was the rapid expansion of office work accompanied by
a more fragmented and routinized division of labour (see Table 4.1 page. 192).
At the same time, women are making gains in what can be called non-traditional jobs, those in
which men have predominated. Still many traditional male professions present hurdles to female
entry. Equally important, there has been little movement of men into female dominated
occupations. To the extent that occupational gender segregation is breaking down, it is due to
women moving into male dominated areas, not vice versa.
Gender Stratification within Occupations
Now we will examine a related obstacle women