Comparative social-science researchers, the press, and politicians often hail Scandinavian societies as a gender equality ‘paradise’ and a role model for the UK because of their generous public sectors. Yet, an influential body of research has proposed a welfare state ‘paradox’ or gendered ‘trade-offs’. The argument goes that while ‘women-friendly’ welfare states achieve high female employment rates, they also make it harder for women to break into (better) male-dominated jobs by increasing discrimination against women and funnelling women into female-typed public-sector positions (e.g., Mandel and Semyonov, 2006; Pettit and Hook, 2005). However, there is a far from a consensus on this issue, with studies based on more recent data finding no empirical evidence in support of gendered trade-offs or paradoxes (e.g., Brady et al., 2020).
This ESRC-funded project contributes to this debate in three main ways. First, it makes use of up-to-date data to better understand the contingent relationships and potential tensions between different dimensions of gender inequality and segregation in employment through a cluster analysis of multiple outcomes for women’s employment across 24 advanced economies. Second, the project moves beyond the methodological nationalism of current research to consider how national-level policies, in interaction with regional-level conditions, shape women’s employment outcomes through a multilevel regression analysis of European Social Survey data. Third, the project investigates some of the underlying mechanisms through which women’s careers are potentially adversely affected by work-family policies via a secondary analysis of qualitative data in the UK.