Is the rise of women in the labour market changing the perception of their role in the home? This study explores how women and men are dealing with the feminisation of labour markets in the face of the prevalence of male breadwinner ideologies and the apparent threat to male authority represented by women’s earnings. It shows that most working women continue to bear a disproportionate burden of domestic responsibility. Women may be using their newly acquired earning power to challenge the injustice of the double work burden, but policymakers are still failing to provide support for women’s care responsibilities.
The different processes associated with globalisation have led to rising rates of paid work by women, often in contexts where male employment is stagnant or declining. Responses have varied across the world, but there appears to be a remarkable resistance to changes in the domestic division of unpaid work within the household.
Many of the services previously provided by women on an unpaid basis are being transferred to the paid economy. However, most working women continue to bear a disproportionate burden of domestic responsibility. In addition:
- The feminisation of labour markets reflects a variety of factors: rising levels of education, declining family size, falling fertility rates and changing aspirations.
- Women have been ‘pushed’ into the labour market by the decline in agricultural production, growing levels of landlessness, the privatisation of public welfare services, the withdrawal of subsidies and declining levels of male employment.
- The process of feminisation has been accompanied by a shift in the sectoral distribution of female labour. Women make up an increasing share of the manufacturing labour force, but the service sector has seen the greatest increase in women’s share of the labour force.
- Meanwhile, men continue to enjoy a larger share of employment and earnings.
Married women encounter greater resistance to their entry into paid work from their husbands than do unmarried women from their authority figures. Diminished self-esteem and the threat represented by their wives’ paid work have given rise to a range of hostile behaviours on the part of husbands, many of whom are reluctant to give up their masculine privileges. Further findings are that:
- Despite the compromises that married women make to take up paid work, their access to earning opportunities and the opening up of horizons have led to them having more influence in household decision-making.
- Women’s dual responsibilities often lead to adverse consequences for themselves or for their children. Some leave their husbands to cut back their workload. Some work longer hours, leading to exhaustion.
- As more educated women move into work, domestic service, which had nearly disappeared in the West, has returned in a significant way.
- Migration and marital dissolution are closely linked in the case of women.
- The growth in the global mail order bride industry may be linked to the contradictory shifts in relationships between women and men within different national contexts.
The large-scale entry of women into paid work across an increasingly global economy raises important theoretical issues and policy challenges:
- It vital that women’s reproductive responsibilities are acknowledged in policies intended to promote pro-poor growth and human development.
- It is important to recognise the previously hidden racial, ethnic and gender segmentation of labour markets that have become more visible as they have become internationalised.
- The pursuit of flexible markets and the need to compete in the global economy has led to the dismantling of welfare provision and labour market regulation.
- Women as economic actors are more visible in the public domain and more engaged in collective struggle than they have ever been.
- The failure of the feminisation of paid work to eradicate gender hierarchies within the labour market may explain why many women have colluded in upholding male authority and the privileges that go with it, including exemption from housework.
- The diverse microlevel negotiations over women’s increased breadwinning roles has increased the demand for paid female labour in services hitherto provided through the unpaid relations of marriage and family.