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50. Gender and work

Manchester research investigates gender inequalities in pay, job type, working conditions and work-life balance.

Manchester research investigates gender inequalities in pay, job type, working conditions and work-life balance.

Equal treatment legislation was introduced in the 1970s – are there still gender inequalities in work and employment? The short answer is yes, gender imbalances in the types of jobs that men and women do (horizontal and vertical gender segregation), and how their work is valued and rewarded, remains a key feature of the UK labour market.

These gender imbalances are found outside the workplace as well. Women are more likely than men to make adjustments to reconcile employment with care responsibilities. After having children, most women move into part-time employment where jobs are more concentrated than full-time jobs into a narrow set of occupations and often in the low paid areas of elementary jobs, sales and personal services, which are generally at the lower grades. This is a key cause of the gender pay gap. The rise in poor quality, low paid and precarious jobs, which are mainly taken up by women, means that they are more exposed than men to inactivity, unemployment and low wage traps.

Colette Fagan’s research on ‘work-life balance’ compares working conditions across Europe and makes some comparisons with the USA and Australia, which allows for a better understanding of how different employment policies affect everyday lives. Much of her work is concerned with the comparative institutional or ‘societal systems’ analysis of employment and welfare systems, and how these institutional configurations shape the pattern of gender relations and inequalities found in different societies. Her research shows that women’s jobs are inferior on many, but not all dimensions of job quality, and that quotas or targets are effective tools for increasing women’s representation at board level.  In terms of part-time work, the research discovered an important difference between ‘marginal’ and ‘integrated’ types of part-time jobs, which shape the quality of part-time work.

It is also important that men are involved in making the social changes needed to achieve gender equality. Helen Norman has used the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study to explore paternal involvement in childcare and housework. Her research found that men were more likely to be involved fathers when they work shorter hours and when their partner is employed full-time. This suggests it is important to improve reconciliation measures for fathers to include flexible work arrangements, limits to long-hour working and a system of flexible and well remunerated parental leave.

Further reading

Fagan, C., Norman, H., Smith, M., González Menéndez, M.C. 2014. In search of good quality part-time employment. Geneva: International Labour Organisation.

Fagan, C. 2013. Women on Corporate Boards in Europe. Brussels: European Parliament.

Fagan, C., Lyonette, C., Smith, M., Saldaña-Tejeda, A. 2012. The influence of working time arrangements on work-life integration or ‘balance’: A review of the international evidence. Geneva: International Labour Office

Norman, H., Elliot, M., Fagan, C. “Which fathers are the most involved in taking care of their toddlers in the UK? An investigation of the predictors of paternal involvement.” Community, Work & Family(2014)

Fagan, C., Norman, H. “Trends and social divisions in maternal employment patterns following maternity leave in the UK.” International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 32, no. 9/10(2012) 544-560


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