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Gender Divisions and Working Time in the New Economy: Changing Patterns of Work, Care and Public Policy in Europe and North America

Diane Perrons, Colette Fagan, Linda McDowell, Kath Ray and Kevin Ward (Eds)

Edward Elgar, Cheltenham (2006), 319 pp, UK £65.00 (hbk), ISBN 1 84542 020 9.

Reviewed by Julie MacLeavy, University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

The persistence of gender divisions in the labour market has become a key focus of policy analysis. As recognition has grown that the expansion and retention of high rates of employment cannot be achieved without consideration of gender issues, governments across Europe and North America have become increasingly concerned with the influence of gender relations on social and economic arrangements. In the UK, debate has been (recently) framed by the recognition of the continued pay gap between men and women. Elsewhere this has been contextualised more broadly with regard to the structure of working. This latter perspective acknowledges that direct discrimination is just one cause of the gender pay gap and points towards the influence of additional factors such as the allotment of responsibility for domestic labour, which prompts many women to work part-time, and the persistence of occupational segregation, which has long been discernible through the concentration of women in low paid, low status jobs.

Against this background, Gender Divisions and Working Time in the New Economy provides a holistic analysis of contemporary employment systems, exploring the organisation of unpaid or caring work as well as paid work and arrangements for the social reproduction of the labour force in addition to the organisation of employment. It seeks to identify how the labour market is itself gendered and examines the role of gender in past and current processes of restructuring at a macro and workplace level. Divided into five parts, the chapters of the book begin with a consideration of the changing character of work and working times, before moving on to explore the implications of the increased feminisation of employment for ‘work-life balance’, the gender division of labour in the household, new technologies and city-time policies delivering urban services to a more feminised workforce, and policies and processes that promote or impede progress towards gender equality. The introduction and conclusion provide a brief summary detailing the particular contribution made by each of the five sections to the book’s overarching conceptual and theoretical analysis. This is useful in ensuring a sense of cohesion to the understanding of the links between gender and labour markets, work organisations and the family across western states.

The introduction stipulates that the book’s focus is on recent changes in the organisation and composition of paid work, the structure of families and the context within which individuals and families organise their lives. These are categorised as political, economic and social changes. The first concerns the tension between economic and social policy, arising from the care deficit that ensues from the foundation of a more liberal, competitive and global economy in which the female employment rate is expanded without addressing employment composition and pay, as well as problems that are encountered when trying to raise the funds necessary for increasing caring provision to ameliorate the loss of unpaid domestic labour. The second relates to reinforcement of structural inequalities such as gender and race as a result of the increased risk and insecurity of service sector employment, which serves to broaden social divisions by coding work and thus levels of economic prosperity. The third involves the social consequences of the mounting struggle for dual and single earning households in seeking to successfully combine paid work with caring, which often manifests itself in severe work intensity, stress and limitations on time.

The chapters following use comparative analysis and case studies from France, Norway, Sweden, the UK and the US to explore these different aspects of relationships between changing work patterns and the complexities of organising social reproduction at a time when growing numbers of women are moving into or becoming obliged to look for waged work while still taking primary responsibility for caring for dependents. Harriet Presser, for example looks at the family consequences of late hour shifts and weekend employment; Jeanne Fagnani and Marie Thérèse Letablier focus on the Reduction of Work

ing Time policy in France and its relation to the work-life balance issue; Berit Brandth and Elin Kvande explore the potential for fathers’ care policy to regulate conditions in working life in Norway. In different ways each of the chapters critically assesses key ideas permeating social and economic theory about work, life and time, and highlights the significance of regulatory frameworks in framing personal decision-making. Although many of the processes involved in this new organisation of work are universal in existence, the variation of patterns produced over time and between countries demonstrates that the effects engendered by these processes are not universal.

In this respect, the book provides an important challenge to the notion that the gendered effects of neoliberalism are inevitable, irreversible and undifferentiated. As such, it will be of particular interest to researchers working in the fields of both gender and political economy. Moreover, by revealing the spatial variations in gender divisions, and how these are shaped by different state responses to women’s labour market participation, this volume provides a basis for identifying policy issues that need to be addressed if greater gender equity is to be achieved, rather than undermined by new configurations of political economy.