Welfare State Interventions and Occupational Gender Segregation: Paradise or Paradox?

Welfare State Interventions and Occupational Gender Segregation: Paradise or Paradox?

Welfare states enable women’s employment through the family policies they provide and the jobs they create. Hence, comparative social-science researchers, the press, and politicians hail Scandinavian societies as a gender equality ‘paradise’ and a role model for the UK because of their generous public sectors (e.g. Esping-Andersen, 2016). Yet, prior research has suggested a welfare state ‘paradox’: while ‘women-friendly’ welfare states achieve high female employment rates, they also frustrate women’s access to male-dominated jobs by increasing discrimination against women and funnelling women into female-typed public-sector positions (Mandel and Semyonov, 2006).

However, most studies on the welfare state paradox use data from 2000 or earlier. But a lot has changed since then. Nordic labour markets are no longer the most gender-segregated and, on some measures of segregation, outperform less women-friendly countries, including the UK. Thus, the relationship between women-friendly measures and gender employment segregation appears more complex than paradox theory predicts. The purpose of this project is to shed light on such complexity through the following objectives:

  1. To situate the relationship between ‘women-friendly’ social policies and gender employment segregation within the broader macro-level context. Do generous family policies always lead to segregation? Or can certain conditions (e.g. gender boardroom quotas) help to ‘cancel out’ the negative impact of family policies on women’s careers? Up-to-date data will be analysed using methods that have not been used to explore the welfare state paradox before.
  2. To go beyond the country and clarify how the impacts of welfare states on women’s careers vary within countries according to a region’s specific economic and social context using multilevel regression models. Research has shown that occupational sex segregation is contingent on the structure of local labour markets, their sociodemographic composition and the dominant gender-role ideology (Perales and Vidal, 2015). By examining the applicability of paradox theory to NUTS regions across 20 countries, the research can provide an evidence base for locally tailored policy solutions.
  3. To carry out an intersectional analysis of women-friendly policies and gender employment segregation. Intersectionality posits that women are not a homogeneous group, as gender interacts with other dimensions of ‘difference’ (e.g. class) in shaping people’s experiences (Crenshaw, 1991). Prior studies have examined the outcomes of gender/class intersections (e.g. Korpi et al., 2013). The project will build on these studies by interrogating the underlying mechanisms that determine these outcomes.
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Helen Kowalewska
Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford with interests in comparative social policy, gender and employment.