chapter  1
24 Pages

Women, work and skill: Economic theories and feminist perspectives

ByM. Thea Sinclair

Women and men participate in the paid labour market on a very different basis. Women’s employment in both the ‘North’ and ‘South’ is segregated horizontally, in a limited range of occupations and of jobs within occupations, and vertically, at the bottom of the occupational ladder. Such segregation almost invariably corresponds to lower earnings and inferior working conditions for women and is accompanied by a division of labour within the home which accords women the major share of childcare and other domestic labour. What are the forces which serve to perpetuate such inequality, and under what circumstances is it open to change? In answering these questions existing studies have tended to emphasize three types of variables: material conditions, institutional determinants, and ‘unobservable’ factors such as preferences, attitudes, and ideologies. Orthodox economic explanations, for example, have examined the operation and effects of market forces, concentrating on changes in quantifiable variables such as wages, income, and family circumstances including the age and number of children. Segmented labour market theorists, on the other hand, emphasize the importance of structural differences within the overall labour market and examine the institutional determinants of such differences; for example the provision by employers of a career ladder for (male) workers within the privileged primary sector of the labour market, pay bargaining procedures, and the role of trade unions in reinforcing the advantaged role of workers within the primary sector. Many sociological workplace ethnographies have concentrated on the role of socialization and culture in forming the consciousness of working women.