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Social Policy and Development Programme Paper 12: Women’s Employment and Welfare Regimes: Globalization, Export Orientation and Social Policy in Europe and North America

27 Aug 2002

  • Author(s): Ann Shola Orloff

Today, in developed countries, women’s employment and the policies that facilitate, constrain or ignore it are central to social politics. Social policy plays a significant role in women’s employment, especially in the continuity of their lifelong participation and working conditions. It also helps build stakes in gendered social politics. There are major differences in policies and politics affecting women's employment in different countries. This new paper also recalls that for many, women’s movement into the workforce is a key symbol of women’s equality.

The paper also reminds us that besides social policy, other essential elements to the employment of women include: labour market changes and demand for women’s labour; women’s rising education and aspirations; their increased productivity and real wages; the decline of men’s wages; declining fertility, increasing individualization and marriage instability. Thematically, this paper is unified by attention to the links between social policy, patterns of women’s employment and gender equality. Empirically, the focus is on developed countries of Western Europe and North America.

Three tasks are undertaken in this paper. First, there is a review of material on the character of women’s employment and the social policies that affect it, including frameworks that attempt to categorize cross-national policy patterns in different types of policy regimes. Second, available options are examined for women when they cannot work for pay, particularly when they are engaged in periods of intense caregiving. Third, research is considered that attempts to explain different national patterns of policy affecting women’s employment.

The author concludes with some thoughts about the ways in which women’s employment may lead to greater gender equality.

Ann Shola Orloff is a Professor of Sociology, Gender Studies and Political Science at Northwestern University, where she is also affiliated with the Center for International and Comparative Studies and the Institute for Policy Research, USA.

Order PPSPD 12 from UNRISD (US$ 8 for readers in industrialized countries and US$ 4 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students).