The Impact of Policy Retrenchment in Europe
Edited by Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead
Chapter 2: Public sector adjustment and the threat to gender equality
From the Second World War onwards the public sector played a highly significant if variable role in integrating women into wage employment and promoting gender equality (Kolberg 1991; Whitehouse 1992; O’Connor 1993; Gornick and Jacobs 1998; Pillinger 2004; Mandel and Semyonov 2005, 2006; Mandel and Shalev 2009). A large public sector has been associated with better employment opportunities and conditions for lower-skilled women but also with higher levels of gender segregation. Differences in the size of public sector employment reflect the development of the welfare state and the importance attached to services rather than transfers. In Central and Eastern European countries under the previous socialist regimes, women were overrepresented in areas such as education and health, but these professional-type jobs offered lower pay and status than comparable jobs in the West (Healy and McKee 1997; Brainerd 2000; Pollert 2003; Pillinger 2004). In the transition period these jobs have remained primarily in the public sector, and public sector employees have lost out on the rising wages, at least at the top end, in the emerging private sector (True 1999). Up until the financial crisis of 2008, the long-term expectation within Europe has been that public services would at least be maintained and even grow as more and more states responded to new social needs for childcare and expanded education, health and elderly care.
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