Linda McDowell

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Father and Ford Revisited: Gender, Class and Employment Change in the New Millennium Linda McDowell Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol. 26, No. 4. (2001), pp. 448-464.Stable URL: Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers is currently published by The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).

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Father and Ford revisited: gender, class and employment change in the new millenniumLinda McDowellIn the last decade in Britain the combination of women's continued entry into the labour market and the restructuring of welfare provision has exacerbated the growing demands on individuals and households in their allocation of time between productive and reproductive labour and the contradictions between the two spheres, as well as time and income inequalities between the rich and the poor. Since the election of the new Labour government in 1997, the concept of work/life balance, as well as a range of other policies to address these divisions have been introduced. This paper addresses the nature of the changes in the last decade, through the perspective of gender and class divisions and critically assesses key debates about the changing nature of working life as well as current policy provisions to support the increasing individualization of employment.

key words Britain work employment gender

class work/life balance

Department of Geography, University College London, 26 Bedford Way, London WClH OAP email: revised manuscript received 30 July 2001

What I want to do here is to reflect on the changes in the last ten years, looking both at Ten years ago I published a paper in the T Y ~ ~ z smaterial changes and contemporary theoretical nctzons (McDowell 1991) in which I argued that the debates, as well as the implications of the election post-fordist compact in the UK was potentially of a new Labour government in 1997 and again in unstable because the decline of state provision in 2001. Despite the optimism felt by many on the left at the defeat of the right, the first Blair government, the sphere of reproduction coupled with women's growing labour market participation had increased by and large, has been a disappointment and social the total workload of most women. I also argued, and income inequalities have widened rather however, that there were growing differences than closed, despite new policies to address child opening up between women, as the living poverty. In its first four years, new Labour formed standards of women in professional occupations, a government that combined the rhetoric of social especially as members of high and dual income democracy with neo-liberal policies, especially in households, far exceeded those of women in cleri- the welfare sphere. It both encouraged women to cal and bottom end service sector employment. I enter the labour market and also, at least in the argued that for these women and for men in the first term, continued the Thatcherite policies of same class position, relative inequality appeared to restraints on public spending and reduction in be increasing and thus that the connections welfare costs (although policies are set to change between class and gender divisions were taking to some degree since the election to a second new and more complex forms. term in June 2001: both public expenditure andTnz Jnst Bv Geogr I\jS 26 448-464 2001 vls ISSN 0020-2754 0 Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2001


Fntl~rraizd Ford vcvls~ted

privatization is planned to increase and to be extended into a range of social and welfare services including education and the health service). As I pointed out ten years ago, these policies are contradictory. The questions that I raised then about how reproductive labour is to be organized, if women are increasingly required to participate in waged labour and to replace previously stateprovided services through their own labour or through purchase in market have become even more urgent. This paper will examine these questions in a number of steps. First evidence about the nature of material changes in the division of labour in the workplace over the last decade will be examined, looking at changing gender divisions and the growth of inequalities between individuals and households. The extent to which these changing patterns have been encouraged or facilitated by policy shifts, especially the growing reliance on workfare programmes to increase overall participation rates, will then be addressed. In the second major section, parallel changes in theoretical debates about the nature of work in contemporary industrial societies and its associations with the social construction of gendered identities will be analpsed. Here arguments about the impacts of restructuring, casualization, flexibility and detraditionalization on social divisions and individual and group identities in post modern or risk societies will be explored, through the lens of the transformation of class and gender relations. In the final substantive section of the paper, the implications of recent and proposed policy initiatives to facilitate the combination of waged and reproductive labour in circumstances where women's continued participation in the labour market is taken for granted will be examined, drawing out the continuing contradictions for many women and for social policy provision.

Changing gender divisions of labour in the workplaceOne of the most noticeable features of the last decade is that the rise in women's labour market participation rates has continued. Indeed, in the main, the 1990s were a decade of labour market expansion and increased rates of participation for most individuals, although not all. By the start of the new millennium, 75 per cent of the total UK

population of working age was in employment which is the highest participation rate in western Europe and higher than in the USA. Currently, 70 per cent of women of working age are employed compared to 80 per cent of men. One of the most interesting features of women's participation is that since 1991 the particular life cycle pattern of participation that distinguished women employees from men has virtually disappeared (Gregg and Wadsworth 1999), although, as I argue later, the distinct gender differences in, for example, pay rates and in hours worked that have long distinguished wlomen's labour market participation remain. Until recently, however, a graph of wonlen's participation rates by age was distinct from that of men's. It was marked by two peaks of high participation - among young women until their mid twenties, after which rates declined to peak again by about the age of 40. At the present time, however, this line is now almost flat, paralleling the pattern for men, with no distinction by age or status between women except for a decline after age 50. Thus, the pattern now7 mirrors that of men's participation, but about 10 per cent below it. The most significant changes in women's participation then, which have been evident since 1975, but especially noticeable since 1991, have been for women in their thirties with dependent children. Part of the explanation for women's rising participation rates lies in the continued growth of service sector employment where there has been the expansion of a range of jobs and occupations regarded as particularly appropriate for women's skills - in a wide range of 'servicing' occupations at the bottom end of the labour market. But women have also been moving into professional services in growing numbers, reflecting their success in gaining educational and professional credentials. Young women's achievement now surpasses that of young men of the same age in the examinations that mark the end of compulsory schooling. By the middle of the decade, for example, in England and Wales, 49 per cent of girls aged 16 achieved five or more A-C grades GCSEs (regarded as good passes in the basic school-leaving certificate) compared with 40 per cent of boys, and, significantly, girls now out-perform boys in science, maths and technology at age 16, although by the age of 18, in the Advanced Level examinations, the traditional gendered subject biases remain in place. However, more girls than boys now stay in education until they are 18 years old - 74 per cent compared with

Linda McDoii~ell68 per cent - and similar percentages of young men and young women now enter British universities as undergraduates, although young