Perfect Timing

Any discussion of working time and gender must begin by recognizing two essential points. The first point is that, in a little over two decades, women's participation in paid work has increased substantially in most of the world.

There was a significant period of growth during the 1980s, but participation continued to increase marginally during the 1990s as well... For example, from 1993 to 2003, the total number of women in the global labor force increased by 20 per cent - from 1.0 to 1.2 billion workers - although their participation rate increased by only 0.4 per cent during the same period (ILO 2004:2). Nonetheless, the global labor force participation rate for women stood at a relatively low level (53.9 per cent) in 2003, compared with 79.4 per cent for men. The regions of the world with the highest levels of female labor force participation in 2003 were East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, while the Middle East-North Africa and the South Asia regions recorded the lowest levels.

The second point is that, despite the increase in women's participation in paid work, women continue to bear the primary responsibility for unpaid work in households, including both domestic tasks and the provision of care to family members. With regard to care work, for instance, recent research based on time-use studies in the industrialized countries indicates that women continue to provide the vast majority of childcare in families (Ilahi 2001; European Commission and Eurostat 2003).

And although comprehensive data on time use are unavailable in most developing countries, where such data are available the results can truly be eye-opening. For example, in Brazil, a nationwide survey of women in 2001 by the Funda��o Perseu Abramo (the Perseu Abramo Foundation) found that in 96 per cent of all Brazilian households, women were the ones who had the primary responsibility for handling domestic tasks, and 57 per cent of the women with partners (married or not) who were interviewed reported that their partner had not performed any housework in the previous week (Sorj 2004: 25).

The difference in the average weekly hours that the women devoted to household tasks compared with their partners was astonishing: the women reported spending an average of 48 hours per week on domestic tasks, while their male partners spent only 5.6 hours on such tasks - thus, the difference in household work is the equivalent of a full paid working week (44 hours) in that country. Even if the comparison is narrowed down only to those in paid work, similar findings are reported...

...These two factors, taken together, lead to the inescapable conclusion that, while women are increasingly being found in paid work, their temporal availability for such work is going to be significantly constrained by the time that they need to devote to their household/domestic responsibilities. That is, given the weight of these responsibilities, one would expect to find that women will of necessity be somewhat limited in the number of hours that they can spend on paid work activities and also in the times of the day/week when they are available for paid work.

A number of other recent studies provide a substantial body of evidence indicating that the presence of children in a household - particularly young, pre- school children - substantially reduces women's paid labor supply, either in terms of their labor force participation, their working hours, or both...

Hungary (Galasi 2002) provides an excellent illustration of the phenomenon of temporal constraints on women's participation in paid work. Based on a gender analysis, this study finds that both marriage and the presence of children in the household increase men's paid working hours and reduce women's paid working hours. The presence of children alone results in working hours that are between 13 and 19 per cent longer for men than for women (Galasi 2002: 62), and the more children in the family the greater the effect of this factor on hours worked. Thus, the findings of this study suggest that women of any given age would be willing to work longer hours in paid employment 'if not for their family obligations'. ...

Given this important temporal constraint, it is not surprising that the ways in which women participate in paid work are often substantially different from men's participation in the labor force, and that these differences, in turn, have some profound implications for their working time.

Women's temporal constraints on their working hours are widely reported. For example, in Malaysia it was estimated that the percentage of women who stopped work due to childcare reasons was 23 per cent (Nagaraj 2004: 46).

...The second difference in male and female participation is illustrated by the data on the distribution of working hours (using data from the 2005 special survey of ILO member States on the distribution of working hours). ... For men, we see a pattern of long working hours (49 hours a week or more). ...

For women, on the other hand... a pattern that is essentially the reverse of that for men: high proportions of women working part-time hours - defined here as less than 35 hours a weeks - and from a gender perspective, proportions of part-time working that are dramatically higher for women than for men. Only one country, Thailand, had a higher proportion of males than females working part- time in wage employment; and even in that country, the proportions were essentially the same. In fact, two-fifths of all countries responding to the special survey reported that 30 per cent or more of women in wage employment were working part-time...

... Temporal constraints due to women's family responsibilities have important implications not only for the number of hours of paid work that they are able to perform, but also on the timing of that work as well. In the industrialized countries, for example, some firms structure work schedules specifically to appeal to working mothers, such as part-time daytime schedules from Monday to Friday that allow mothers to work when their children are attending school (Purcell et al. 1999; Fagan 2004; Messenger, ed. 2004).

Although such schedules may have their own problems, in many developing countries the possibility of balancing work and family through such 'family-friendly' work schedules is simply non-existent, at least not for workers in wage jobs in the formal economy. As a result, workers with family responsibilities - predominantly women - may be forced by family constraints into taking jobs that offer them the possibility of caring for their children while they are working...

...Women's need to fit their work schedules around their family responsibilities may encourage them to enter self-employment, which (almost by definition) offers them more flexible working hours and/or the ability to work for pay in their own homes... Of course, this type of flexibility may come at a very high price, given that many types of self-employment in developing and transition countries are in the informal economy - with the low earnings and the lack of social protection that this implies... In a similar manner, fitting paid work around their family responsibilities may also encourage women to attempt to balance work and family by working at times when their spouses or partners are at home, such as at night or on weekends.

...The availability of policies and programmes designed to support workers with family responsibilities can help to substantially increase the extent of women's participation in paid employment - including their working hours. In addition to affordable, high-quality childcare, 'family-friendly' working time policies, such as flexible daily starting and finishing times (flexi-time) and paid time off work to deal with family problems, can help workers to more effectively manage their work and family responsibilities.

(Excerpts from 'Working Time Around the World: Trends in working hours, laws and policies in a global comparative perspective' [International Labor Office, Geneva]; by Sangheon Lee, Deirdre McCann and Jon C. Messenger; Published by Routledge; Price: Hardbound US$125) 


More by :  Christian Thomas Kohl

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