Balancing work and life outside of work can be difficult in modern societies. Work-family imbalance especially pertains to women in the labor market, because they are often responsible for childcare and housework besides working their jobs.
In a recent study, we examine how different work arrangements that play a role in reconciling work and family life relate to jobs’ gender composition. We scrutinize whether women specifically choose jobs with work arrangements that correspond with women’s preference for reconciling work and family life, or whether more and more women entering jobs shifts the work arrangements in these jobs towards women’s preferences.
Our results show that women increasingly enter jobs that offer more part-time work and work from home, and avoid jobs with more weekend work. We do not find that working women can shift the work arrangements in their jobs toward a better balance of work and family life.
Over the last decades, standard forms of employment in Western societies have eroded substantially. Following the transformation toward service-oriented societies and technical innovations, many employees today work in arrangements that are much more flexible.
On the one hand, arrangements have become common that give employees leeway for scheduling their work, such as working part-time or working from home. On the other hand, working hours and weekend work have also increased.
These changing work arrangements may shift employees’ work-life balance. While working from home and part-time work better allow for women to balance work and family life, longer working hours and more weekend work will likely result in greater imbalance.
Parallel to the shift in work arrangements, societies have been striving toward gender equality. Women have increasingly entered the labor market and in recent years, they reach employment rates that gradually approach those of men.
Following these parallel trends, do more and more women choose jobs with arrangements that promise better options for reconciling work and family life, or does the influx of women into jobs shift the work arrangements in these jobs towards women’s preferences?
On the one hand, theory predicts that gender-specific preferences for certain work arrangements will affect the gender composition in different jobs. According to socialization theory, men and women internalize gender-specific roles and expectations in their childhood and adolescence that later on lead to gender-specific occupational orientations and choices in the labor market. Female role models include both the role of being the family caregiver and the role of being an employee, which may steer women towards jobs that make it possible to combine the two.
From an economic perspective, working women must budget their time between household responsibilities and labor market participation. Thus, they will avoid jobs with less favorable working conditions, such as long working hours, and prefer jobs with more favorable characteristics, such as flexibility.
According to these theories, changes in the work arrangements that a job offers will induce changes in the share of women. In jobs where the conditions for balancing the obligations of work and family improve, the share of women will increase, whereas it will decrease in jobs with deteriorating conditions.
On the other hand, one can argue the opposite way that the gender composition will affect the work arrangements in different jobs. From this point of view, more women that carry out a job may more effectively bargain for work arrangements in this job that allow them to better reconcile work and family life.
In the wake of modernization, women’s labor supply, qualifications, and bargaining power have increased substantially. As a result, women are better able to get employers to agree to favorable arrangements for reconciling work and family life.
According to these considerations, changes in the share of women will induce changes in the work arrangements that a job offers: With more women in a job, there are more job incumbents who will bargain for better work-family balance, which will shift the work arrangements in these jobs towards women’s preferences.
To test these opposed hypotheses, we created a unique longitudinal dataset. By aggregating individual data of the 1996 to 2012 waves of the German Microcensus for different occupations, we can study over a time span of 17 years the changes in occupational work arrangements and the reactions to these changes.
The data provide information on a series of different work arrangements in the occupations that determine the extent to which women will be able to reconcile work and family life. Jobs with extensive part-time work, marginal part-time work, and work from home offer more favorable work arrangements, whereas jobs that involve weekend work and overwork represent the less favorable arrangements.
Our panel analyses show, first, that changing work arrangements in occupations affect their gender composition. When an occupation develops toward more extensive part-time work and homework, which assist women in arranging their work with their family life, the share of women in the occupation increases. Accordingly, when an occupation develops toward more weekend work, which is less compatible with family life, the share of women in the occupation decreases. Changes regarding marginal part-time work and overwork in an occupation, however, do not have any statistically significant effect on the share of women.
Second, our analyses do not provide any evidence that rising or falling shares of women in an occupation induce changes in the work arrangements. It therefore appears that women do not have enough bargaining power to shift the work arrangements in their jobs toward their preferences.
We conclude that women adapt their occupational choices to specific work arrangements that allow them to reconcile work and family life. Women’s dual role as family caregivers and employees steers them towards jobs with work arrangements that make it possible to combine the two. Consequently, the different work arrangements contribute to occupational sex segregation. Women select into occupations that promise better work-family balance by offering them part-time work and homework, and they leave occupations with deteriorating conditions such as increasing weekend work.
Andreas Damelang and Sabine Ebensperger. “Gender composition of occupations and occupational characteristics: Explaining their true relationship by using longitudinal data” in Social Science Research 2020.
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