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Gender-segregation in Labour Market Leads to Part-time Culture

The gender-segregated labour market is a main reason why women are more likely to work part time in the Nordic countries than elsewhere in Europe. This point was emphasised at a seminar arranged by NIKK during the Nordic Forum conference in Malmö.

Cathrine Egeland och Ida Drange. Foto: Josefine Alvunger
Cathrine Egeland and Ida Drange. Photo: Josefine Alvunger

In a European perspective, Nordic women have a comparatively high employment rate. However, the share of women who work part time is also higher than in other European countries, and Norway tops the list.

‘The economic situation in Norway is of course one reason for this. Norwegian women don’t need to work full time since the male-dominated sectors, such as the oil industry, tend to pay very high salaries,’ said Cathrine Egeland, who together with Ida Drange will write a report on part-time work for NIKK.

But this is not the only reason for why part-time work is more common among women than men. Another reason has to do with the gender distribution of household work.

Their study shows that the Nordic women’s high employment rate is not the primary reason for the high share of part-time workers in this group.

Gender-segregated labour market the root of the problem

‘The reason is first and foremost the gender-segregated labour market – that women work in certain sectors and men in others. And a part-time culture has been formed in the female-dominated sectors. The employers are demanding flexibility in a way you don’t see in the male-dominated sectors.’

The rate of part-time work among women is particularly high in the Faroe Islands – about 51 per cent, according to Faroese gender equality minister Johan Dahl. Dahl sees this as a major gender equality problem.

‘It reflects the power structures in society and keeps us from utilising all the competence that the country has to offer. It also leads to women ending up in relationships where they become dependent on their men for the rest of their lives.’

In addition, 20 per cent of the male labour force in the Faroe Islands work abroad. It is difficult for Faroese employers to compete against for example the high salaries paid in the Norwegian oil industry.

Johan Dahl. Foto: Josefine Alvunger
 Johan Dahl. Photo: Josefine Alvunger

Finland saw a similar development in the 1970s when many Finns moved to Sweden to work, drawn by better work conditions. However, Tapio Bergholm, senior researcher at the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions, says that this is coincidentally one of two historic reasons for why Finnish women today in fact have a lower rate of part-time work than their Nordic sisters – only 15 per cent. The second reason is World War II.

‘These two historic events led to a shortage of labour in Finland, which increased the need for women to work full time. Because of this, the part-time culture you see in the other Nordic countries was never established in Finland.’

Women should afford to get divorced

In contrast, Sweden has a strong part-time culture in the female-dominated sectors. Over half of all female members of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, LO – an umbrella organisation covering several female-dominated sectors – work part time.

‘One of LO’s most important priorities is that people should be able to afford to get divorced. Many female LO members can’t. Add to this that many female-dominated sectors are characterised by weak employment security and poor work conditions. People should have the right to full-time work, but it is also important that the jobs are designed in a way that makes it humanly possible to work full time. This is an incredibly important gender equality issue,’ said Joa Bergold, investigator at LO.

The irregular work hours often found in female-dominated sectors also deserve attention.

‘Women in typical LO jobs often work evenings and weekends. We need childcare with more flexibility. Almost one-third of all LO women have problems working full time because of the hours Swedish pre-schools are open.’

Another discussion at the seminar concerned whether part-time work really is the primary problem. Maybe we should instead focus on the male norm of full-time work, and possibly consider a general reduction in working time. However, this type of solution would first have to be carefully analysed in a gender equality perspective,’ said Bergholm from the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions:

‘Finland has bad experiences of reducing people’s work hours. When we tried it in the 1980s, women and men reacted differently. Women made all work days a little shorter so that they could do more household work, whereas men instead took a whole day off every week to spend more time on hobbies and other leisure activities.

Updated 26 September 2020