Chapter 3: The employment activity of women

As noted at the outset, women's employment increased substantially in most industrialised countries. During the 1960s and early 1970s, less than 40% percent of European women aged between 15 and 64 participated in paid employment, compared with almost 60% today.1 However, these average figures conceal great variations between countries. Several countries, such as Finland and Sweden, already had high rates of female labour force participation (55% and 60%, respectively) several decades ago and the rates rose to 72% and 65%, respectively, at the turn of the century. In other countries, such as Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands, the rates of female labour force participation were quite low (less than 30%) in the 1970s and they developed along divergent paths over time. In Italy, the rate of labour force participation is still low (45%), and in the Netherlands it has risen considerably (to 64%). Spain is somewhere in between, with approximately half of women participating in paid employment.

While women's relationship to economic activity has changed substantially, not much had changed in their care work. In all industrial countries, women still bear the chief responsibility for child rearing, irrespective of welfare regime and specific family and child policies. In fact, none of the public policies (not even in the most egalitarian countries) has been sufficiently effective to change the household division of labour between the genders [Sai96]. Thus, family obligations and the presence of children in particular limit women’s involvement in the economy. However, the rates for women's labour force participation and, in particular, their pattern of work, differ in accordance with work-family regimes and are affected by specific family and gender-oriented policies.

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