Better work and life

EU Presidency conference on:

Better work and life: Towards an inclusive and competitive enlarged Union - 12-13 May 2003, Alexandroupolis, Greece

Co-organised by the Greek Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions

Speech abstract - Brendan Burchell
University Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Social & Political Science, University of Cambridge

Gender and work in Europe: health and work-life compatibility effects

Women occupy a growing proportion of jobs in Europe, and in the process they have increased their representation in the higher-status managerial and professional areas of work. Yet men and women are largely segregated into different types of employment. The domestic work involved in running a home remains segregated as well, with women spending more time than men on the 'second shift' of caring tasks and daily domestic work.

This paper addresses three questions.

  • Firstly, what are the gender differences in exposure to selected key indicators of working conditions, taking occupational position into account? The working conditions that we focus on are exposure to hazardous physical, material and ergonomic conditions; the volume and schedule of working-time; work intensity and work autonomy.
  • Secondly, which working conditions increase the incidence of work-related illness, and is the impact different for men and women?
  • Thirdly, which working conditions have a negative effect on the degree of 'work-life compatibility' that employment offers, and is the impact different for men and women?

The analysis uses the European Working Conditions Survey – 2000, of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. This is a large representative survey of employed individuals in the 15 member states of the European Union. Reference to the results from the two earlier waves in 1991 and 1995/6 are also made.

Firstly, gender differences in working conditions are strongly related to gender segregation between different occupational positions. In particular the distinction between (a) 'heavy' manual (blue-collar) jobs; (b) 'service' (intermediate white-collar) jobs; (c) professional 'public sector' work; and (d) other professional and managerial work is a useful way of differentiating working conditions. These categories can be mapped to segregation, for (a) and (d) are where male employment is concentrated, while (b) and (c) is where most employed women are found.

Secondly, multivariate analysis shows that when differences in men and women's working conditions and occupational position are controlled, then women are more susceptible to work-related illness than are men. This may be partly due to the additional domestic workloads that many women carry. It may also be because women are disproportionately exposed to other working conditions that are not picked up in the available survey indicators, which tend to reflect a historical bias in 'health and safety' policy towards the characteristics of men's jobs and may neglect hazardous conditions in some of the 'service' and 'care' jobs that women do.

Thirdly, the key working conditions that reduce the 'work-family' compatibility of jobs are long weekly and unsociable hours (long days, evenings, nights, weekends) for both women and men. Gender and occupation had no independent effect once the actual working conditions were taken into account. Working-time control or autonomy has a positive effect, but the effect is weak compared to the negative effect of unsociable hours. It appears that a low level of unsociable hours that the employed have no control over is more compatible with organising family life than a higher level of unsociable hours over which they have some apparent control.

The concluding section discusses the policy implications and future avenues of research that are suggested by these results.

Dr Brendan J. Burchell is University Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences and Fellow of Magdalene College, University of Cambridge

Selected Publications since 2000

Journal Articles
Burchell, B. J. 1999. 'The unequal distribution of job insecurity'. International Review of Applied Economics 13: 439-460.
Felstead, A., Green, F. and Burchell, B.J. 2000. 'Job insecurity and the difficulty of regaining employment: An empirical study of unemployment expectations'. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics.
Burchell, B. J. 2002. Les conséquences psychologiques et familiales de l'insécurité professionnelle. Les Politiques Sociales 61: 100-115.

Burchell, B.J., S. Deakin, J. Michie & J. Rubery (2003) Systems of production: markets, organisations and performance. London: Routledge. Fraser, C and Burchell, B. J. with Hay, D. and Duveen G. (Eds) (2001) Introducing social psychology. Oxford: Polity. Burchell, B., Ladipo D. and Wilkinson, F. (2001) Job insecurity and work intensification. London: Routledge.

Fagan, C. and Burchell, B. J. 2002. Gender, Jobs and Working Conditions in the European Union. Dublin: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions.

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