Women in the labour market

Submitted by AWL on 29 January, 2014 - 12:23

Over the past 40 years there has been a rise in the percentage of women in employment and a fall in the percentage of men.

In April to June 2013 around 67% of working-age women were in work, an increase from 53% in 1971. For men the percentage fell to 76% in 2013 from 92% in 1971.

The big story here is the long-term restructuring of UK capitalism, away from manufacturing and towards service industries (which as they were lower-paid and more “flexible” tended to be “matched” to female workers by capitalists).

However female participation in the labour market would not have taken place if mothers had not needed to go out to work. But combining work and childcare (and other caring responsibilities) is, and never has been an easy choice (if indeed a matter of choice at all). While time spent raising children may be something all parents (and not just women or one of the co-parents) want for much of the last forty years it has been a luxury.

People with children work harder and longer. Men with children are more likely to be in work than men without. As soon as children are older and women are older women find a place in the labour market. Indeed there is some evidence that older women are employee's of choice for capitalists: employment for women over 40 is rising but is falling for men.

The average age for women giving birth to her first child is now 28 (up from 26 ten years ago). There could be many social reasons for this delay, unconnected with economic pressures, but this too has affected women's overall employment rate.

Women are of course much more likely to be employed in lower paid work (caring and leisure occupations). If they need the work, then they will take the pay. And structurally lower pay affects all women: female graduates are more likely to work in slightly lower skilled occupation groups then men.

Yet women are often forced to manage combining work with caring responsibilities by working part-time, which is, again often useful to, or has become useful to capitalism not least because it tends to be lower paid. In April-June 2013 13.4 million women were in work, and 42% of these were part-time. Part-time work is becoming part of wider, non-gender specific economic trends though. Of the 15.3 million men in work 12% were in part-time work. The percentage of male part-timers is rising, while the percentage of women in such work has stayed stable at around the 42-45% mark for the last 30 years.

After the 2008-9 recession it was argued that women's employment would be badly affected by the cuts as many of the redundancies were in public sector jobs where women dominate. While those job cuts have happened, women's overall employment rate has recovered to 2007 levels. Moreover male employment fell by more than women during the recession. This might be due to further loss of manufacturing industry. Other factors might be increasing pressure on lone parents to find work or lose benefits and the increase in the state pension age.

Employment rates have fallen for both young women and young men (16-23 year olds), mainly due to greater numbers remaining in full-time education.

Employment rates are lower for some groups of women, from some ethnic backgrounds, especially those with children.

Flowing on from these realities is continued and dramatic occupational segregation. Women make up 82% of occupations within caring and leisure, dominate administration and secretarial roles (77%) and make up just 10% of skilled trades, and 11% of machine operators in manufacturing.

In terms of skill men and women were as likely to be in unskilled jobs but their jobs are different: men are warehouse workers and labourers, women are cleaners and domestic workers. Men were more likely to be in higher skilled jobs, women in lower skilled jobs. Even more interesting is the percentage of women in lower skilled work (just over 20% for graduates and just over 60% for non-graduates) hardly change for women with children and women without children. Women are simply destined to do certain kinds of jobs.

Men make up the majority of higher earners; debateable whether or not we are interested in the “glass ceiling” but it is the case that the pay gap among the top 10% is coming down among the under 30s. In the 20-29 age bracket 47% of women were in the top 10% and 53% of men.

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