Women in the Workforce | Feminist Economics Part 3

– There are many different
things that affect the ability of women to get involved
in paid employment, not just the fact that they have to engage in all the unpaid labor. There are legal, social, cultural, and other constraints as well, but it's also something
that drives the ability to move up in your chosen occupation. And this affects women across all different kinds of activities. This is a circular process. It is that also women then assume that they are really meant
only for these activities, or they only look for
jobs in these activities because that's where women are. So the idea that you could
be in unconventional work or in the non-traditional
types of employment is very difficult for a lot
of, not just young women, but even their employers to accept. And it's not just the women
themselves or the employers, but it's the entire social
structure around you. It is the family, it is the community. It's the availability of transport to and from the workplace. It is the public systems that enable certain kinds of work or employment.

And all of that is geared to pushing women into particular activities, which once they're clustered into them, they become the wage occupations. And then the wage penalty exists
even for the male workers. All over the world,
occupational segregation has increased over time
over the last few decades, it hasn't gone down, it has increased. And this occupational segmentation, within that you might find
that the gender wage gaps within a particular
occupation have reduced, but overall they haven't. And what's even more striking is that education does not reduce it. Some of this has to do
with the constraints of housework as well. Claudia Goldin has done studies, which showed that even within occupations, those who can work longer hours and certain hours in particular are much more likely to be higher paid and more valued by the employers. Whereas once you have
household responsibilities and care responsibilities, you need to be home at a certain time. You cannot be available for extra work.

You can't do things that
some of the men can. There are many other reasons why there's this famous glass ceiling that is talked about so much. It's not just the ability
to do certain kinds of work, which then gets you more
valued by employers. It's also the male resentment. Women are much less likely to be bosses because a lot of men will say, we don't want to be
bossed around by a woman. We don't want to have
to report to a woman, say in finance and consultancy and so on. But also it's not just these
social and cultural features. There's a lot of legal discrimination. That's still the case in
most parts of the world, that there are activities that women are simply
barred from, forbidden, and they are not related only
to physical characteristics.

In fact, if you look at
the map of the world, you will find that the
majority of the countries are still places which forbid women from engaging in particular
occupations or activities. And when you go deep down into it, you will find it's not about
the physical characteristics. Sometimes it's supposedly out of concern for the physical security of women. But instead of saying, well, we will ensure physical security, we will make sure there are
streetlights everywhere, we will make sure that
there are adequate patrols.

You say, well, don't go into those things because that's a risk to you. And so, because we care
about your personal safety, we are going to forbid you. When jobs are more difficult,
more arduous, more strenuous, it's usually the job of women. It's not necessarily the physical
characteristic of the job, but it's also the case that since women are more
likely to be in informal work, they have to do a whole range of things that are extremely arduous in which there is zero
protection provided. As we find that there's more and more informal work across the world, there's less and less legal and
social protection for women.

In large parts of the world,
that was always the case, that women were dominantly
in informal work and so they never had
legal or social protection. And they also had much less
access to social security. And one of the reasons for that is because also they
dominate in part-time work, which has less likelihood of being covered by all of these benefits. Again, women choose part-time work because of all those
household responsibilities, all the care work that they
are required to perform. And as a result, they end up with more
irregular working hours sometimes even longer working
hours, even in the paid work. And then of course have to
do the unpaid work back home. Now this in turn has very,
very specific implications for the ability for upward mobility, because a lot of the jobs that women do don't really have that inherent tendency towards either learning by doing or improvement in conditions over time.

And so seniority is not
seen as an advantage. Seniority is seen as a disadvantage. And one of the classic examples of this is in the healthcare sector. Approximately 70% of all
healthcare workers are women, but here's the thing,
even in the health sector, they are mostly at the low wage end. They are at the frontline. They are nurses, midwives,
community health workers. – We are looking to testing
at least 2,000 people today. – So in India, we have
an extraordinary concept of public health workers called ASHA. ASHA is an acronym for accredited
social health activist. Okay, not a worker, an activist, but accredited. And the word ASHA means hope in Hindi. So it's a cruel acronym
because these ASHAs are not considered as workers. In some cases, they don't
even get any official wage.

They get rewarded according to the specific duties they perform. Like if they encourage
people to get inoculated, or if they take babies for their checkups. But as a result, they are
getting approximately 1/10 of what the lowest paid male
public worker would get. So the state itself is not
recognizing them as workers. Now what's happened across
the world during this pandemic is that the ones who are most
at risk are frontline workers. And in many countries, not only India, these frontline workers are
not seen as public employees. They don't seem to get
any of the benefits, forget the social protection. They don't even get legal protection. They haven't, during the pandemic, even got the basic protection
that you would require to prevent getting ill yourself, because there have been in large parts of the developing world, significant cuts in public spending. Many workers have not even
been paid for several months.

It's extraordinary that
in a health crisis, health workers are not getting a due. And why is that? It's because they are seen
as not really expendable, but generally available. If it's not done by this woman, you will find another woman
who is available to do it. Not only because there's
so much unemployment, but because that's what women do, women look after others, women do the caring. And so it's all right to
exploit to the maximum possible because they will be
available for their families, their communities, and so on. As capitalism relies on the fact that there will be some people willing to make some sacrifices
for the care of others and therefore implement certain
accumulation strategies, so also our societies have
grown enured to this fact, and we even get outraged
when they don't deliver, when they're not available
24/7 in periods of crisis because of the assumption that this is essentially
what women will do.

And if you go up the ladder, if you go up to specialists and surgeons and other more specialized
and highly paid activities, it's dominantly men. Again, this is not really only the result of medical education because increasingly you're
getting more and more women going in for specialized
medical education as well. It's just that, despite that, you end up with this very
top heavy presence of men at the top of the ladder and
a disproportionate presence of women at the bottom of the ladder. There's a lot of economic analysis devoted to trying to understand why there are gender wage gaps. And the typical thing to do
is to decompose the wage gap into what is called the explained part and the unexplained part. So the explained part is what
they call attributes, okay. Age, experience, skill, education. The idea is that workers will be paid more according to when they're older
they tend to get more wages. If they have more experience, if they have a higher level of education, if they have a particular skill, then they will be paid more.

So those will be attributes. And then the unexplained part, which you can't explain
with these attributes, that's the part which
they call discrimination and across the world,
it's found on average, the two are kind of equal, that there's an equal
significance of both, but if anything, the discrimination part, which used to be around
half of the difference, it's been coming down a bit. I think that's the wrong
way of looking at it. I think the distinction between the two is analytically flawed. Surely the fact that women have less skill or less education is an
aspect of discrimination.

So I don't believe that we can
really say gender wage gaps. The discrimination part has
come down because that's only, if you take a very, very
narrow view of discrimination. When you say that it's only
precisely for that job, that this employer is discriminating against this woman versus a man. The older you get, the more likely you are to
actually have a lower wage as a woman than an equivalent man worker. This works largely because
of what has been called the motherhood penalty.

– Women take on average a decade more time out of the workforce. That's going to impact. – Because women take
time off to be mothers, they face worst labor market conditions, their careers get interrupted, when they reenter the workforce, they find it much harder
either to get a job again, or to get a similar job. They've lost all those
years of work experience when they were having the babies and looking after the children. And therefore they're not as attractive to employers as they would have been. You know, there was a
study done in Denmark between 1980 and 2013. They tracked a bunch of women and they found that after the first child, there's a dramatic drop
in women's earnings and they never really recover. So 10 years after the
first child in that study, women with children were
earning nearly a quarter less than women without children. So that 10 year period meant that they had lost a
quarter of their earnings.

Whereas for men, there
was no difference at all, whether they had children or not. So really that wage penalty
is a penalty for motherhood. The other really striking
thing that came out from this Danish study is that between the
first part of the period, 1980 and the end, the part of the gender wage
gap that you could explain because of this motherhood
penalty had doubled, it was 40% in 1980,
and it was 80% in 2013. So in this period of, you know, greater global integration
and all of these things and supposedly greater gender awareness, women were going to
suffer to a greater extent by having children, in terms of what they
would lose in earned income over their lifetime. The idea of the double
burden, you know, really, if you do not have the ability to hire in some of those goods and services, you can buy more processed food, you can mechanize some of the housework, you can buy labor saving equipment, you can hire people to do
care work, or cleaning work.

If you can't afford to
do any of these things, then you have to be super women. And the real super women are
not the more professional, more highly paid ones who can afford to outsource some of these things. The real super women are the ones who cannot afford to do that and have to go back and
do all of those things in addition to doing their paid work. The usual complaint is that these women are not working hard enough
or they're less reliable, or they're always taking days
off because the child is ill or that kind of thing.

pexels photo 6801649

So you can see how the very
structure of the labor market is, first of all, designed to ensure that it's
the woman who is responsible for all of the care work. And secondly, that when
they do that care work, they're penalized. We often think of safety at work. And in fact, I think there's
now more and more awareness of the possibilities of sexual harassment, of different kinds of
gender-based violence at work and different kinds of
exploitation at work. And of course it extends as we now know from the me too movement, we know that it extends
all the way from, you know, relatively unskilled and
less high profile activities to the very extremely high
profile and well-paid activities. We know that these are real and common and can dramatically affect
women's work possibilities and life chances. But the commute part is
much less talked about. And again, it's one of those things, when you think about it, public policy doesn't
bother really very much to ensure that commutes, going from your home to your place of work and returning are safe, secure, easy, and manageable for women who
also have to do a double burden of work at home.

– [Interviewer] How does it feel for you? I see you're traveling with your baby. Perhaps you do that quite often. How does it feel for you
as a woman, you know, traveling with your little
one and the incidents that we've seen now regarding taxi rapes? – As a woman, and I'm going with my baby, I don't feel safe 'cause
I don't know if I will go where I'm going, I'll be safe, or I'll arrive safe with my
baby or something will happen. – Commute times are becoming
more and more significant, especially because there are other changes going on in economies, different kinds of zoning restrictions, different kinds of residential patterns, where the rich tend to make
themselves into little enclaves where they don't have to mix
too much with poorer sections, which have made commuting times
for work longer and longer and often less safe for women.

There's another whole aspect of work that we haven't really considered yet and that's self-employment. In developing countries,
around half of all workers are self-employed and many,
many women are self-employed. The difficulties are often even greater when they're self-employed. Now, why is that? Well, first because
women have less assets, there are many reasons why legal, social, cultural reasons why women
inherit less than men, why they are less able to create assets and, you know, benefit from
them in their lifetime. Overall, they have less assets. They're also less able
to access output markets, many constraints in terms
of the ability to sell and less ability to even
access input markets. There are often many government programs for specific inputs. There are often other
arrangements, which are very male, officialdom also remember is very male. So dealing with all of this
male officialdom or even peers, it's very complicated. And it means that women
are much less likely to benefit from government schemes. Then again, whether legally or culturally, they often require male
permission for many activities. So you can't just say, I plan
to do the following thing, or I plan to access the following inputs.

You need male permission. So you'd have to have a
man as an intermediary, which in turn means you're
dependent on that man, which also means you would
possibly lose some of your income as a cut to that man, even if he's your husband
or some other male member of the household, but nonetheless, you don't have that freedom on autonomy, which the man does, even in terms of the self-employment. That in turn means they have
less ability to access credit. I can think of many developing countries, I can think of my own city of Delhi, where I have gone with
relatively poor women to open bank accounts, and, you know, the bank managers have been completely dismissive and said, well, you can't even open a bank account, not even asking for credit.

They just want to open a bank account. They want to put money in the bank. And it's very difficult because
they're not taken seriously. All businesses require credit, working capital credit, at least. And if you cannot get it from a bank or an institutional credit source, you have to go to a private money lender or some informal creditor. And so you end up paying much more. So your costs are already much higher than the equivalent man
who can get bank credit. Microfinance was supposed to
be a big solution to this. And how does that work? It works through this
thing called group lending. That is to say women form groups and that group together gets a loan. And the idea is that peer
pressure will make sure that everyone repays and
that particular point works.

Micro-finance has very
high rates of repayment because yes, peer pressure is very strong and all the other women in your group are going to make your life
miserable if you don't repay. So yes, it does. But the terms of microfinance turn out to be extremely difficult and damaging. In most of the developing world, the interest rates are anywhere
between 20 to 60% per year, 20 to 60% per year, imagine that's the kind of
interest rate you're paying. And they're usually very small amounts and you have to repay within a few months. Can you imagine any of our
big software entrepreneurs, who've all relied on lots of
venture capital to succeed, can you imagine any of them
managing on terms like this? So clearly microfinance is not meant for productive investment. It's not designed to help
women actually create viable economic activities because the
terms are simply impossible. All it does, therefore, it ends up doing what is called consumption smoothing.

You need to make a big
expenditure for something, a health cost or a child's wedding or education or something. You need a big expenditure. You use the microfinance and then you try and repay it overtime. Microfinance gives such terrible
terms that it cannot serve as an alternative to normal
or institutional credit. And so the very idea
that we can pause at that as a solution to women
micro entrepreneurship, that's terrible. So we find, again, this is not just in developing
countries, across the world, women-run enterprises
on average are smaller and they face higher costs. They're also much more affected by these inadequate public facilities that I've been talking about. Street trading is a classic example. It's hugely affected for
example by street lighting, by the possibility of physical
violence or harassment, not just by people around
you, but by officialdom, by petty officials down on the ground, by the availability of toilets, which are easily accessible
and clean and reasonably safe. – [Narrator] UNICEF estimates
that half of all rapes could be prevented if there
was better access to toilets.

As in so many shocking cases, Saroj from a village in
Northern India with no access to an indoor toilet was set upon when she
was forced to go outside. – I think I mentioned lack of assets. A lot of that has to do with
property rights structures. So there's a very strong
tendency to be patrilineal in handing down property. And unless there are legal
restrictions from preventing it, in other words, it's not just
enough to allow women to, you have to make sure
there are clear reasons why you will not inherit because in most societies that's founded whenever you allow women
to inherit property, it doesn't follow that they do.

It's still that the male children
are preferred inheritors, and this is down the line. It's not just among the rich,
it's also among the poor. And that of course then determines all the other things that I'd mentioned. You know, the lack of assets, the less ability to access credit, less ability to start your own enterprise, all of those things. But there are other legal
restrictions as well. There was a study done by
the World Bank actually, which found that across the world, women had only about 3/4
of the rights that men had. So the ability to even get
into a small enterprise, to do self-employment, all of those things are affected
by these legal constraints, which do not allow you
to benefit from things that your brother can. In general, it's been found
wherever there are surveys that women earn approximately
half what men do from self-employment. Again, it's not about physical attributes.

It's not about skill. It's not about age. It's not about any of these things. It's all about these various constraints, legal, social, cultural, and economic, which are put on women to prevent them from being able to be
on a level playing field economically with men. So what does all this tell us? In a way, I think what it shows is that women are the most basic form of what Marx had called
the reserve army of labor. Basically Marx said that
the reserve army of labor is this very useful thing for capitalism.

It's all the workers who are not employed and their very existence acts as a wonderful bargaining
tactic for employers. In other words, capitalism
needs that reserve army because it can keep workers under control. It can be a very important
disciplining device for those who are employed. You can say that, you know,
don't dare ask for higher wages.

Don't dare ask for better conditions, because if you do, there
are all these other workers willing to take your job. And of course we've
seen how this plays out, not just nationally, but internationally. Today employers can tell their workers who are demanding better
conditions and higher work, that if you don't behave yourself, we will move to Mexico or Guatemala and you will lose your job. So you better not demand
all these conditions and higher wages. But women are in a sense the quintessential available reserve army. Marx defined them as having
three characteristics that it's latent. And of course, that's
absolutely typical for women because they will be doing their
household responsibilities, their care work, but they can be made available to work when capitalism requires just as they were during
the war in the U.S., just as they were in East Asia, during export oriented industrialization. There also the second feature stagnant, which is to say that they don't really have huge income opportunities themselves. They're just available. They're latent and they're
stagnant and they're floating.

They can float into paid work, they can be pushed back out of it. And that's a huge
advantage for capitalism. Remember, I'm not saying that this was a creation of capitalism because that's what we've seen, that it predates capitalism. In fact, patriarchal divisions
even predates slavery. But what it does do is enable
capitalism to make use of it in a way that really
benefits its own strategies for worker control and its own ability to extract more and more surplus from different kinds of
productive activities. And of course it does that through these segmented labor
markets that I've mentioned, it does that from the fact
that women get clustered into low wage occupations, more and more young women
get sent out to work when there's more poverty among families. It does that by enabling
lifecycle pressures to bring women in and then push them out of the workforce as it requires.

And it cements the role of women as insecure low-paid subordinate workers. The implicit attitude is of
women who can be brought in or expelled from jobs depending
on employer's requirements. And that it's all right to
give them worse conditions. It's all right to give them lower wages. It's all right not to promise
them secure employment. Now this works obviously within economies, it works for private employers. It works for public employers. I've already talked
about how the government of India is doing it, but there are other governments, in South Africa and Brazil in many other countries
where this is happening. It works globally through
the relocation of production and through the relocation of workers. So there are many ways in which this reserve army of labor plays out and in which globalization
has added to that process, because these are not
just processes that make that particular activity cheaper, but they underwrite a lot of other costs.

They underwrite the entire
accumulation process in the advanced countries. Again, something which people
don't really think about. They don't recognize it
even as a major issue and certainly, public policy
doesn't recognize it either. And that's what I'm going to
take up in the next lecture. The many ways in which public policy is not just gender blind, it's not blind, it sees it, but it uses those gender
differences to its own advantage and to cheapen its own
needs for public spending..

You May Also Like