The typology approach

A third widely used strategy for the comparative study of social systems is the typology approach. The roots of this approach can be found in Weber's ideal type methodology [Web49]. The ideal type is an analytical construct. It is an abstraction formed from the elements of a given phenomenon (e.g. ‘democracy’ as a political system) but it does not correspond to any real or concrete case. It is particularly useful for comparative studies, as various cases may be positioned in relation to the theoretical construct. The typology approach captures the middle ground between the two previously described approaches. On the one hand, it seeks generalisable systemic regularities that permit the grouping of certain societies (or, more generally, social systems) and contrasts them with others, the underlying assumption being that the variation within a set of societies closely associated with a certain ideal type is smaller that between societies associated with different ideal types. On the other hand, this approach still treats countries as holistic social entities that cannot be reduced to a finite set of variables. Probably the best known and most widely used typology of industrial and post-industrial societies is that proposed by Esping-Andersen [Esp90] [Esp99]. Using different institutional and ideological characteristics of countries, Esping-Andersen sorted them into three distinguishable welfare regimes. The three regimes – liberal, social democratic and conservative – can be viewed as ideal types and countries are classified as belonging to the type which their institutional arrangements most resemble. Esping-Andersen’s basic distinction between the three focuses on the ways social welfare is produced and allocated between the state, the market and the family. The contextual differences, best characterised by the level of de-commodification, and, in more recent work, also by the level of de-familialisation, are expected to affect workers’ welfare in general, and women’s work behaviour and their paths to achieving economic independence, in particular.

In contrast to much of the comparative research on family, work and gender inequality that focused on differences stemming from the social context of diverse welfare regimes, Crompton [Cro99] proposed a different typology that places gender as the central theoretical construct. The ‘gender order’, or ‘gender regime’ typology encapsulates the idea that gender relations are constructed in particular social contexts and that the structuring of these relations is complex, as they evolve from a multiplicity of origins. The gender order is pervasive throughout society, but ‘… the major dimension structuring the gender division of labor has been the gender coding of caring and market work’ (Crompton, 1999, p. 204). For a variety of reasons, societies may differ in their dominant form of gender organisation [Gor03]. The gender regime typology was ordered along a continuum: the historic male-breadwinner/female-carer at one end followed by the more common arrangement of dual-earner/female part-time carer, and, when both partners are involved in breadwinning and delegate the care work to a third party, two alternatives of dual-earner/substitute carer arise: one in which the state takes responsibility for care work (the dual-earner/state carer model) and one in which care work is carried out through the market (dual-earner/ marketised model). At the other end of the continuum stands the yet unattained model of dual-earner – dual-carer.

The advantage of the typology approach lies in its ability to focus on specific societal attributes and to group together a number of countries that share the attributes without necessarily providing an in-depth and separate analysis for each.1 This research strategy also enhances our understanding of societal phenomena by raising the level of abstraction and highlighting similar institutional patterns across societies and relating them to societal or individual-level outcomes. However, using a one-dimensional categorisation (as most typologies do) also has its drawbacks. Uunk [Uun04] pointed out that not all countries fall clearly into one category and that within-category country variation with regard to policies and behaviour is considerable [Gor97] [Sti01]. Furthermore, as opposed to the macro-variable approach, which is able to accommodate a situation in which countries have similar scores on one variable (e.g. female labour force participation rate), but different scores on a second variable (e.g. percentage of 3-5 year olds who attend day care), the typology approach generally requires exclusivity; i.e. a country will be classified in the best fitting category even if it has some features of other types as well.

The limitations of such an approach are evident when we consider that different institutions and arrangements that fall into a single category of a typology may affect differently various aspects of family-employment relations. For example, family supportive policies are expected to encourage women’s employment in general (and they do, as numerous studies suggest); however, lengthy periods of maternity leave may in fact be detrimental to women’s ability to accumulate resources through work in the market since they provide incentives for taking a long period of separation from market work [Gor03] [Sti03]. Typologies, then, provide crude measures that may conceal conflicting influences on individual behaviour that cannot easily be discerned. We should further note that the popularity of the typology approach in the study of women’s employment behaviour and their market prospects is accompanied by the presence of a sizeable number of typologies. Each relies on a different theoretical basis and utilises different institutional characteristics. It is not easy to choose the ‘right’ typology, which may at times depend on the specific outcome in question. As we intend to offer a typology as a didactic apparatus to guide the discussion and the assignments in this course, we introduce this note of caution so that readers can keep in mind the limitations as well as the advantages it provides for comparative research.

Before concluding this section, we should note that a problem common to all methods of analysis is the difficulty of identifying causal relationships among the constructs. To what extent do institutions and policies affect individual behaviour? Two issues are raised by this question. Firstly, can we establish a unidirectional causal link? Can we show, for instance, that a change in policy brought about a change in behaviour? Secondly, what are the mechanisms that link macro-level variables such as institutional arrangements to individual-level outcomes? How do such broad policies shape opportunities and constrain decision-making? Since the measures are crude and often cannot take into account a time dimension, it is hard to decide whether the specific institutional arrangement affects individual behaviour, or the reverse. Childcare arrangements, for example, were found to affect women’s labour force participation, but it is plausible to argue that a growing interest among women in joining the labour market creates pressures and demand for the provision of more child-care facilities [Gor03]. With available data, the problem of causality is almost impossible to overcome: its resolution requires longitudinal data on institutional arrangements as well as individual behaviour. The use of panel data from specific periods of time may provide a way of sustaining the directionality of effects from macro-level characteristics to micro-level behaviour.

In the following chapter, we will provide a theoretical framework (typology) for conceptualising country differences. We will then use this framework as a guide for our discussion of the ways in which families organise spouses’ paid and unpaid work. We will then consider the consequences for gender equality in the labour market and within the family.

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