Rethinking the Paradox of Welfare States and Gender Inequality

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 3:30 PM
Room: 413
Oral Presentation
Hadas MANDEL , Sociology and Anthropology, Tel-Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
Although most comparative studies of welfare-states and gender inequality highlight the favorable effects of work-family policies on women, a growing number of studies, including my own, provide evidence of the unanticipated, and negative, consequences of work-family policies. The conclusion from these findings is that state interventions to reconcile paid with unpaid work, which are considered “mother-friendly,” have, paradoxically, negative consequences for the labor market attainments of working women.

In this work, my aim is to locate these findings within a wider context – not to challenge the findings themselves, but to question the conclusions that arise from them. My arguments are twofold: First, I argue that the impact of work-family policies is conditioned by class. The negative implications of family-policies for women's labor market attainments, found in previous studies, are, in fact, a consequence of their impact on highly skilled and highly educated women. Among lower-skilled women, these effects not only diminish, but also reverse. Second, I argue that when the focus is shifted from a single aspect of gender inequality to multiple aspects that are analyzed simultaneously, the implications of work-family policies for gender inequality no longer appear paradoxical, for it becomes possible to see the inherent tradeoffs between the different aspects.

These arguments are examined using a wide range of country-level indicators, aggregated from the ISSP data, of 14 welfare states. The indicators encompass most aspects of women's economic activities that have been investigated in comparative research. The indicators are divided into two groups: one that is relevant to advantaged women (e.g., women’s representation in managerial positions), and the other to disadvantaged women (e.g., poverty rates). The relationship between welfare-state policies and each group of indicators will be examined and discussed in light of the tradeoff between participation and occupational attainments, and the class divisions among women.