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Gender Divisions and Differences in Work

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Published: Tue, 20 Feb 2018

Today, women have gained a new equality with men. This perspective is indisputable’

This review explores the contemporary literature on the theme of ‘women and work’ in the light of the suggestion that women have indisputably gained a new equality with men. Overwhelming evidence has been found for the persistence of gender inequalities which work to disadvantage women in the context of work, including domestic work, although it is clear that providing explanations for this phenomenon has shown that the issue is complex and highly contested. It is argued that a redefinition and re-interpretation of the inter-dependence between paid and unpaid work, care and leisure is needed.

There seems no doubt that in order for there to be a greater measure of real gender equality, male identity, in particular, must beer-examined and changed. It seems clear that research and policy are focusing more on the ways in which caring, in particular, is perceived and constructed in gender terms. However, in order to effect real change in gender equality, it is argued that there must be recognition of the myriad of ways in which both masculinities and femininities are constructed and interact with each other in this complex field.

Chapter One Introduction

The focus of this literature review is upon the theme of women and work within the context of the premise that women have gained an indisputable equality with men. Whilst it seems, in theory, more ‘equitable’, to have included commentary and research in equal amounts from men and women, an exploration of the literature revealed a far greater contribution to the debate from women than from men, perhaps by virtue of women’s perception of their own disadvantaged position, and this bias is consequently reflected in the variety of sources cited.

Literature search was conducted within a University library database, using the search criteria ‘women and work’ and ‘gender equality and work’ and this yielded access to a selection of books and articles. The sources selected for inclusion in the review were restricted to those which specifically focus upon gender differences and inequalities in the realm of work, defined in its widest sense to include that undertaken within the household as well as work in the formal labour market. Due to the plethora of writing and research in this field, the decision was made to restrict sources to those produced within the last ten years, thus maintaining a contemporary focus, although references are made to earlier works.

Chapter topics reflect the themes which emerged from the literature. Chapter Two presents a historical overview of women’s employment and the major ideology by which it has been underpinned in British society together with the ways in which the different patterns of employment between men and women have served to disadvantage women, particularly in economic terms. Chapter Three explores women as employees in more depth, particularly the ways in which organisations, occupations and spheres of work are profoundly gendered and how this, again, seems to work against women, although it will be shown that this is a contested area.

The focus in Chapter Four is upon domestic labour and the ways in which its traditional construction as ‘women’s work’ has been strongly contested. The different ways in which work is itself construed, in both the traditional world of work and the private domain, sets the scene for a change of emphasis. The literature reflects a movement, in Chapter Five, from a concentration upon the inequalities and injustices heaped upon women through patriarchal structures towards a redefinition of the key issues through an exploration of the increasingly blurred distinctions between paid work, unpaid domestic work, care and leisure.

A reinterpretation of caring and how this may be incorporated into the discourse on gender and work has been highlighted. It is argued that there is a clear need for more serious account to be taken of the lived experiences of both men and women, to celebrate, rather than denigrate, gender differences and to strive to understand the ways in which such differences are constructed in ways which may disadvantage both men and women.

Chapter Two The nature and extent of women’s employment

Many commentators have noted the different ways in which women and men have organized their lives together and how the work that each undertakes has changed and developed over time (Crompton, 1997; Hatt,1997). Crompton (1997) describes how the gender division of labour originated from, and was profoundly reshaped by, the advent of industrialisation in Britain.

By the turn of the 20th century, men became increasingly associated with paid or market work, whilst women were identified with the household and non-market work. This trend became intimately connected with an ideology of womanhood which effectively served to exclude women from ‘market’ work. As Crompton asserts, the male-breadwinner model emerged from the ideology of ‘separate spheres’ in which “the home and domestic sphere was defined as belonging to women, whilst that of the outside world – including the workplace – was defined as that of men” (1997, p.8).

There seems little doubt, as will become clear later in this review, that assuming the main responsibility for household tasks and child-rearing has had a significant impact upon women’s participation in market work.

The idea that this responsibility is somehow ‘natural’ can be said to underpin many family-related explanations for women’s behaviour in the labour market, however, this is clearly a contentious issue. Those who support the view that the gender division of labour manifested in today’s society is rooted in biological differences between the sexes include Hakim (1995; 1996) and Browne (1998).

Hakim (1995), for example, sets out to explain the particular patterns of women’s employment in Britain and how they are distinct from those of men. She draws on findings from the socio-biological field which cite male traits of aggressiveness, dominance and competitiveness as rooted in hormonal differences between men and women. These natural masculine traits are seen as instrumental in the disproportionate participation and success of men in the employment sphere.

In similar vein, Browne (1998) argues, that biologically influenced sex differences in behaviour have important ramifications for the occupational choices made by men and women in the working sphere and their differential employment patterns.

Whilst clearly decrying outright sexual discrimination, Browne suggests that “much of the glass ceiling and gender gap is the product of basic biological sex differences in personality and temperament acting in the context of the modern labour market” and that these differences are the product of “differential reproductive strategies followed by the two sexes during the course of human evolution” (1998, p.5). Browne argues that instead of denying the reality of these natural sex differences in the pursuit of socially constructed explanations for the ‘gender gap’, it will be more productive for feminists, in particular, to embrace them and incorporate them into future discourse about work.

Hakim (1995; 1996) is also critical of feminist commentators on women’s employment, such as Wallaby (1990), who have suggested that occupational segregation, the construction of women’s jobs as separate from men’s jobs, has been a mechanism through which women have been systematically denied access to jobs by men.

Hartmann (1982), as cited by Crompton (1997), described the rationale behind occupational segregation by sex as the mechanism through which men’s superiority over women is maintained by enforcing lower wages for women in the labour market in order ensure their dependence on men. Hartmann (1982) asserts that “men benefit from both higher wages and the domestic division of labour” and thus, the latter, in turn, serves to perpetuate women’s inferior position in the labour market (Crompton,1997, p.11). Hakim argues against this analysis, however, suggesting that the different pattern of women’s labour-force participation and work commitment is due to women’s choices according to their tastes and preferences. Hence, some women choose to give more priority to their domestic role and child-rearing and less to their employment careers, though, for example, working part-time rather than full-time or opting for less demanding occupations (Hakim, 1996).

Hat (1997) discusses the issue of gender and work from an economic perspective and points out that the labour resources of an economy include women and men engaging in productive activity in both the labour market and the household. The working population, however, is term most often used, particularly by economists, to describe those women and men who are engaged in paid employment, self-employment, in Forces, on work-related training schemes or registered as unemployed.

This effectively excludes all those women or men in the unpaid sector and full-time homemakers. Hat (1997) records that in1993, in the 16 to 64 age group, 71% of all men and 53% of all women were participating in the working population. The Equal Opportunities Commission report that in the same age group in 2004, over 83% of men and 70% of women were ‘economically active’ (EOC, 2005, p.8). Although caution is needed in comparisons between different sets of statistics, it seems clear that a larger proportion of men than of women participate in the working population but the gap would seem to be closing.

It is notable, however, that patterns of labour force participation by women and men are both distinct and different. Hat (1997) notes that, in 1993, for prime age male workers aged 24 to 49, participation rates were over 90%, declining after the age of 50. For women in 1993, the participation rate was 71% for the age range 24 to 34, falling to 54%for women with a child under 5 years old, increasing again as children enter school.

Similarly, in 2004, 52% of mothers with children under 5years old were in employment, of these women, around 66% were working part-time. Crompton (1997) observes that almost all of the increase in women’s employment in Britain from the 1950s until the 1980s was impart-time work. This trend is further underlined in the latest statistics in that nearly half of all women (44%) and about 10% of all men work part-time (EOC, 2005).

As the statistics show, clearly women are more likely than men to work on a part-time basis. Writers seem divided as to explanations for this phenomenon. Wallaby (1990), for example, has suggested that the expansion of part time employment represents a kind of capitalist, patriarchal conspiracy in which mainly male employers have secured women’s cheap and docile labour, whilst at the same time ‘freeing ‘women to continue undertaking domestic labour in the home. Crompton(1997), also, notes that “part-time work….has a reputation of being insecure, low-paid and with little by way of training or promotion prospects” (p.33). She cites Beeches and Perkins (1987) who suggest that certain jobs were actually constructed as part-time jobs because they were seen as ‘women’s jobs’, invariably low graded and rarely defined as skilled (Crompton, 1997, p.33).

Other writers, such as Hakim (1996), deny the assertion that employers have sought to construct ‘poor work’ for women, asserting instead that it is women themselves who have demanded part-time work to fit in with their other domestic responsibilities – employers have simply responded to meet this demand (Hakim, 1996). Evidence from research by Rubbery et al(1994), however, suggests that not only is part-time work less flexible than full-time work and of inferior quality, but also it has been developed largely to suit the needs of the employer. Since most part-time workers are women, it is women who are most affected by the disadvantages associated with this mode of work.

Chapter Three Women as employees

Hat (1997) traces the changes in the working population and employment patterns of men and women in recent decades, pointing out that whilst there has been a decline in male employment since 1980, female employment since that time has increased. She cites the official census data from 1994 which revealed that this latter increase was due to a greater proportion of mothers entering paid employment (Hatt,1997). It has been well-documented that within the labour market, women play a different role from men. As we have seen, women are more likely than men to work part-time and, as Hat observes, they also “work in different industries from men, occupy different positions even within mixed industries and are under-represented in senior positions”(1997, p.17).

Many commentators have noted that women are concentrated in certain industries and occupations, such as clerical work, catering, cleaning and caring work whereas men are more often found in the manufacturing sector and the construction industry, for example (Hat, 1997; Franks,1999; Moe, 2003). Even when women and men are found in the same sector, men tend to occupy the more senior positions with women more often situated in the lower ranks of the hierarchy (Hat, 1997; Franks,1999).

As Hat (1997) records, “women are under-represented at senior-levels throughout all occupational categories” (p.21). Crompton(1997) examines the banking industry, in some detail, as an example of the response to labour market demands for low-level clerical workers. She describes how this industry, along with others such as insurance and local government, helped “to generate a mass, feminized clerical labour force” (Crompton, 1997, p.107).

Both direct and indirect discriminatory practices against women within particular banks came to light and pressure from the Equal Opportunities Commission forced some important policy changes. Crompton (1997) acknowledges that there have been major changes to employment practices in the financial sector in general, in later years, as far as gender equality is concerned.

She cites structural factors, such as the demand for labour and the organization of the labour process alongside male exclusionary practices as the main contributors to the unequal position of female employees within the banking sector. She also concedes, however, that despite recent reforms, women continue to far outweigh men in occupying low-level positions in banking.

It is useful, at this point, to identify the key pieces of government legislation in the UK which have been designed to directly address the issue of equal opportunities between women and men. The first is these Discrimination Act 1975 which promoted the basic principle that men and women should not be less favourably treated by virtue of their sexier marital status.

The other is the Equal Pay Act 1975 designed to outlaw discrimination between women and men in the same employment, in pay and other conditions regarding their contracts of employment. This Act was later amended in 1984 to incorporate the Equal Pay for Equal Value principle. In addition to these Acts, the UK is also bound by Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome to uphold European Community equal treatment and equal pay directives (Griffin, 2002).

The Equal Opportunities Commission, set up through the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, functions as the expert organisation on equality between women and men, its main tasks being to “work towards the elimination of discrimination; to promote equality of opportunity and to keep under review the effectiveness of the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts” (Griffin, 2002, p.11).

In the area of what has become known as the ‘gender pay gap’, it seems that, in general, the gap between male and female earnings has narrowed over the past 60 years, but the trend has been inconsistent. For example, female managers and administrators earned 55% of the annual earnings of their male counterparts on 1970, compared to only 33% in the mid 1920s (EOC,1999). However, this discrepancy narrowed by only 1% in this field of work between the mid 1950s and 1970. Since 1970, although this gap has narrowed significantly with women earning 63% of the pay of their male counterparts, compared to 81% for 1998, it was noted that “in all ethnic groups, men have higher average hourly earnings than women”(EOC, 1999, p.5).

This statistical evidence for the steady narrowing of the gender pay gap appears encouraging in terms of the equality agenda. However, as Griffin (2002) observes, there are other relevant issues. She records that, when we look at all sources of income, including earnings from employment and self-employment, occupational pensions, investment and benefit income, women’s income is significantly lower than that of men, apart from state benefits.

For example, figures taken from the EOC forth year 1996-7 showed that 45% of women had an income of less than£100 a week as compared with 20% of men (Griffin, 2002). More latterly, the EOC has recorded that the gender gap in terms of income has remained quite high, stating that “the gender gap between women and men’s mean individual incomes in 2002/3 was 46%” (EOC, 2005).

The EOC (2001) records that despite improvements in recent years, stereotyping remains evident in many professional occupations. Notwithstanding the evidence that greater numbers of women are entering certain professions, such as higher education or the law, women’s share of higher level jobs remains generally low. Certain professional and technical occupations, the ‘occupational segregation’ noted earlier, apparently continue to be heavily dominated by either men or women(EOC, 2001). Empirical studies, especially within the feminist perspective over the past two decades, have moved away from the study of organizational structures per se in order to seek explanations for this persistence in the positioning of men and women in the workplace.

Writers such as Pringle (1988), Chodorow (1989) and Halford and Savage(1995), for example, have instead demonstrated how specific kinds of masculinities and femininities, and discourses of gender, are constructed within the workplace. The emphasis here is upon recognizing the diversity of discourses on what it is to be a male or female employee and, ultimately, to avoid over-generalising about ‘all men’ or ‘all women’. One example of this is illustrated by Crompton(1997) in her exposition of different masculinities in the banking industry.

She charts the movement within managerial positions in banking from a need for solid, paternalistic men towards the requirement for a more competitive, assertive masculinity within selling culture. Crompton (1997), however, argues that although these discursive, ‘post-modern’ insights do much to enhance our understanding of the pattern of women’s employment, and the different ways in which gender is constructed in the workplace, structural or material explanations remain important.

Nazarko (2004) offers a contemporary analysis of the barriers faced by women in the workplace. She maintains that the drive for equal opportunities has hitherto failed to “challenge the premise that certain groups of workers such as women are less productive and less attractive to employers” (p.25) or the assumption that older workers, including women, are less valuable. Nazarko highlights the popularity of organisational initiatives which promote diversity and difference in the field of human resources.

Wilson and Iles (1999), for example, have argued that “diversity management improves recruitment, retention and creativity within organisations” (Nazarko, 2004, p.25). Nazarkocites researchers such as Rosner (1995) who have pointed out that women and men have different styles of working and managing. Women, for example, tend to use interactional styles in management, encouraging participation, sharing power and information and energising others. In contrast, men tend to use transactional styles, seeing pieces of works series of transactions.

Both styles are seen as equally valid and also, may be the preferred model for any individual, regardless of gender. It is argued, then, that both organisations and employees will benefit from initiatives which value diversity and difference, since people would be evaluated and treated as individuals, rather than asocial groups and associated stereotypical connotations. Nazarko(2004), however, fears that the diversity approach does not necessarily eliminate the power structures which persist in society. She argues that until female dominated professions such as nursing are valued as much as male dominated professions like the police force, it is difficult to see how gender equality can be attained.

Chapter Four Domestic labour – women’s work?

It is well-documented that the Industrial Revolution within the western world generated a distinction between paid work outside the home and unpaid domestic labour within the household. Men’s economic activity came to be focused upon paid work, hence the male breadwinner model, whilst women have commonly divided their working lives between the unpaid domestic sphere and activity in the labour market. Hat(1997) represents the feminist approach to this issue by highlighting the way in which women have long been disadvantaged, particularly in economic terms, by their traditional domestic responsibilities. Not only does their focus upon unpaid domestic task constrain their participation in paid work, domestic work itself “is an unpaid economic activity which has for too long passed unnoticed; the skills, which the successful homemaker acquires, go unrecognized in wage and promotion schemes” (Hat, 1997, p.50).

The terms upon which both men and women are able to participate within the labour market are very different and in this respect, it would seem difficult to argue for a level of equality between the sexes. Many commentators have noted, household and child-rearing duties weigh more heavily upon women than men and have traditionally been excluded from economic analyses of participation in work in the widest sense(Crompton, 1997; Hat, 1997; Franks, 1999). As Hat observes “household responsibilities and paid employment are both valid productive activities but they are not equally rewarded by society”(1997, p. 49).

DE et al (1995), in their analysis of the British Household Panel Survey in the mid 1990s, point out that very few men cited household or family responsibilities as affecting their labour market behaviour, whereas over 80% of women surveyed felt that their labour market participation had been adversely affected by these duties. As Franks(1999) points out, work has come to be synonymous with having a paid job and its counterpart is regarded as leisure.

Thus, other kinds of activity such as cleaning the house, doing the shopping, cooking and caring for children and elderly relatives do not officially count as work, although for those involved, it may actually feel very much like work. Underpinning the traditional sexual division of labour is the idea that men’s paid work is dependent upon a shadow economy of women’s unpaid work (Franks, 1999).

Thus, the increased participation of women in the formal paid workforce throws the spotlight onto the status of what had always essentially been regarded as a ‘labour of love’. Franks (1999) presents the example of widowed fathers who do not receive the lump sums, tax allowances and continuing state benefits received by widowed mothers. A missing father’s financial contributions recognised, whereas a widower’s deceased partner is considered to have had no economic value. One solution offered by some economists has been to officially regard this labour as a form of taxation whereby all of society benefits from it as if they were paying directly to the state (Franks, 1999).

Other commentators (Charles and Kerr, 1999); Morris, 1999) have also stressed that despite the contemporary rhetoric of equality between the sexes, the traditional ideology which divides men and women into ‘breadwinner’ and ‘homemaker’ is still very much alive. Charles andKerr (1999), for example, point out that even where there may have been certain egalitarian sharing of domestic tasks within couples initially, once children arrive on the scene it is almost always the case that the woman takes on the responsibility for child-care and household tasks whilst the man takes on the role of breadwinner.

It is argued that although, ostensibly, this arrangement may appear to be complementary relationship with roles being ‘different but equal’, there is a differential allocation of power which renders women disadvantaged. On giving up paid work outside the home, or taking on lower-paid, low-status part-time work, women relinquish their power and status, at least economically (Charles and Kerr, 1999). Having responsibility for decisions about food purchase, or other household necessities, cooking and childcare, it is argued, effectively constitutes the exercise of power by women in other people’s interests. As Charles and Kerr suggest, “most of them (women) carryout these tasks within a set of social relations which denies them power, particularly when they are at home all day with young children and are dependent for financial support on a man” (1999, p.192).

There is a large body of contemporary opinion, evident in the literature, which calls for a redress of balance between the fundamental economic inequity between men and women, particularly within the family unit which includes dependent children. Franks(1999), for example, suggests that there will never be genuine equality between men and women “if male identity remains unaltered and unpaid work continues to be shuffled off onto women” (p.4). Franks goes on to assert that in a market system where unpaid work is invisible, there is no incentive for men to change their identity to encompass low-status, financially worthless activity (1999, p.4).

Crompton (1997) presented her own analysis of the relationship between employment and the family with particular reference to the extent to which there has been any change in the domestic division of labour. She acknowledges that there has been some change, albeit very slow, and she cites research byGershuny et al (1994) who describe the process as one of ‘lagged adaptation’ in which changes tend to occur most often when women are engaged in full-time employment. Other researchers have found that although men, mainly middle-class men, have expressed a desire to become more involved in domestic and child care arrangements, there is little evidence that “equal” parenting is the reality (Lupton and Barclay, 1997).

A more recent briefing by the Equal Opportunities Commission observes that there are many ways in which education, the family and access tithe labour market interact to produce different opportunities for women and men and which result in both men and women experiencing discrimination by virtue of gender. In relation to women in particular, this briefing comments that “women’s work should beer-evaluated, so that it is no longer undervalued and poorly paid”(EOC, 2002, p.1). Hat, in her analysis of gender, work and labour markets, concluded that “the domestic division of labour would certainly seem to lead to social injustice and it is debatable whether it furthers the efficient operation of the economy” (1997, p.50).

Vogel and Pal (1999) present an interesting exposition of the connections between money and power and men and women within households. Their own research found that, in general, the partner with the greater income was likely to be more dominant indecision-making, with women partners in paid employment having greater power than those who work only in the home. There appear to have been few large-scale studies which have focused upon the experiences of social equality, or inequality, between individual members of the same household.

The research conducted by Vogel and Pal (1999) draws on typology, constructed by Pal (1989), of household financial allocation systems, constituting the female whole-wage system, the housekeeping allowance system, the pooling system and the independent management system. In the female whole-wage system, women were given their husband’s pay packet, and had sole responsibility for managing the whole household budget. In the housekeeping allowance system, the women were given a fixed sum for housekeeping expenses, the men having prime responsibility for other expenditure.

The pooling system was used where partners pooled their earnings and shared access to and responsibility for managing expenditure from the common, joint fund. Finally, the independent management system operated where both partners had independent incomes (usually dual-earner couples), each partner taking responsibility for particular items of expenditure, although this may vary over time.

Vogel and Pal (1999) conducted a survey, combined with interviews, of1,211 couples across six British urban areas, covering Swindon, Aberdeen, Northampton, Coventry, Rochdale and Kirkcaldy. Respondents, aged between 20 and 60 years, were questioned on the household financial allocation system which came closest to their own mode of household finance management. By far the most common system used waste pool which was adopted by half of all the couples surveyed, with the remaining half choosing one of the other segregated systems (Voglerand Pal, 1999).

The data was further analysed to determine the relationship between strategic financial control and access to money as a resource within the households studied. It was found that in the joint pooling households “joint management was associated with both equal strategic control over finances and also with equal access to money as a resource” (Vogel and Pal, 1999, p.143). In the female-controlled management systems, constituting just over two-fifths of the sample, a disjunction was found between control over finances and access to money as a resource.

The researchers highlighted their finding that even where ostensibly, these women had greater financial control and power in decision-making, significantly higher levels of personal deprivation were experienced by the women with the men more likely to have more personal spending money than their female partners, especially in lower-income families.

As Vogel and Pal observe, “where the opportunities for exercising financial power are heavily circumscribed by low income and by the husband’s expectation of personal spending money, ‘responsibility’ may be a more appropriate term than ‘control’!” (1999, p.144). This more detailed analysis presented by Vogel and Pal (1999), together with that of other researchers, such as Morris (1999), provides evidence for the ways in which patterns of gender and class inequalities tend to interlock to increase the differences between women and men.

A different perspective upon the issue of gender differences and gender equality in the arena of household work and parenting is provided bother researchers. Doucette (1995), for example, highlights the tendency for debates on this issue to become focused upon the relationship between women’s greater responsibility for household work and caring role, and their relative inequality to men in employment and public life. She argues that whilst this is an important issue, insufficient account has been taken of the “various configurations that gender differences may take within household life” (Doucette, 1995, p.271).

Doucette suggests that much of the literature on the gender division of household labour is situated within an ‘equality’ or ‘equal rights ‘framework, which itself, tends to be constructed through a masculine perspective. For example, she argues that a “male model of minimal participation in housework and child care” is pitched in relation to a “male model of full-time employment” (Doucette, 1995, p. 274).

Whilst it is clearly documented that women’s employment is compromised through the need for women, as a


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