Chapter 4

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University of Toronto Mississauga
Lina Samuel

Chapter 4 Women’s Employment 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 development. 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 as possible. 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 capitalism. 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 employment. 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: 1. Home-centred 2. Career-centred 3. Adaptive 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 second shift. 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 occupations. 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 temporary employment. 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
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