A recent article in Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations by Marisa Young sheds some new light on gender and precarious employment.
“Gender differences in precarious work settings” uses US data to examine two competing theories about why women are over-represented in precarious work settings: human capital theory (i.e., women make different choices than men about skills development) and gender stratification (i.e., women are discriminated against).
The study confirms what most practitioners would expect. Women typically have less work experience than men and women typically spend more time on family commitments than men. Women are also typically earn less than men and are more likely to work part-time. The value of the study is that it analyzes the contributions of work experience and family commitments to the incidence of lower pay and part-time employment.
The gist of Young’s conclusions are these:
1. Controlling for education and experience, men receive higher wages and are less likely to work part-time than women.
2. Controlling for time spent on family commitments, women appear more penalized ( in the form of lower pay and part-time employment) than men for undertaking these tasks.
3. While human capital investments do decrease the likelihood of precarious employment, they do so less effectively for women than for men, in part because of underlying gender discrimination in the workplace.
In short, these findings suggest that employer discrimination makes an independent contribution greater job precariousness for women than men. This finding makes it more difficult to dismiss gender differences in the likelihood precarious employment as a function of women’s choices and forces us to consider discrimination as a source of difference.