Labour market dualization – a disregarded determinant of gender inequality

The concept “labour market dualization” basically implies a distinction between two different groups of people offering labour supply. Traditionally, one distinguishes between “labour market insiders” (those who have jobs) and “labour market outsiders” (those who are unemployed). More recently, analysts also make out a dualization among employees, namely between those who have regular jobs and those who work in precarious jobs.

For both the traditional and the more recent definition of labour market dualization, it is evident that in most industrialised countries, women are overrepresented in the “outsider” group in comparison to men. Full-time equivalent employment rates are higher for men and more women than men work in precarious employment (which does not offer adequate social protection and career options).  However, this is much more valid for Germany than for France.

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In Germany, insufficient child care infrastructure makes women stuck in part time jobs, whereas women tend to work full-time in France, even when having young children. In addition, in Germany a high share of part-time jobs are so called “minijobs”, i.e. jobs for which neither the employee nor the employer is liable for social security payments and taxes. These “minijobs”’ are limited to a monthly wage income of 400€ and therefore strongly discourage an increase in the labour supply in terms of working hours. Women are overrepresented in these types of jobs in Germany and thus represent the majority of employees in precarious working arrangements. In France, there exists no such division of jobs in terms of social security payments and taxes. Moreover, in Germany many women in precarious working arrangements work in the low wage sector at the same time. Especially in the German service sector, a sector where women are largely overrepresented, hourly wages often do not exceed 5 € gross. In France, in contrast, there exists a minimum wage of 9 € gross per hour, legally binding for all sectors and all regions (SMIC).

Besides differences in family policy instruments and cultural norms, the stronger dualization of the labour market in Germany in comparison to France contributes significantly to the fact that both countries differ strongly in terms of female employment and fertility. Actually, women’s full time equivalent employment rates are lower in Germany than in France (45% against 53%). This is also valid for the average number of children per woman (1.4 in Germany against 2.1 in France). As precarious employment among women is more widespread in Germany and as France provides a minimum wage, the gender wage gap is by far higher in Germany than in France (24% against 19%). Finally, women’s fertility and employment outcomes differ more among women of different qualification levels in Germany than in France. In Germany, the number of women not having any children is on the rise and a fourth to a third of German women definitely stay without children. Among academics, the figure is even higher, at 40%. In France, on the other hand, only one in ten women stays childless. In addition, there are much more families with three children in France than in Germany and also highly educated women tend to have children.

This shows that Germany can learn a lot in terms of helping women balance work and family life from its French neighbor. In particular, Germany should look to France for inspiration on recognizing the needs of women not only by designing family policy, but also by viewing work and family life balance as an overarching political topic. The better compatibility of work and family life in France is not simply the result of a single instrument such as comprehensive child care provision, but instead derives from an institutional coherence including equalizing labour market instruments. Germany must not advance families by only improving their situation through family policy measures. An active women’s policy not restricted to mothers but instead helping women in all phases of life is necessary besides progressive family policies. Particular regard should be paid to measures supporting women’s career ambitions.

Sources: Blog author’s participation in seminars on ‘women on the labour market in France and Germany’:

Sciences Po Paris, March 2011: ”Explaining Labour Market and Welfare State Dualisation in France and Germany“

FES Paris and LASAIRE, April 2011: « Maintien des compétences et des qualifications en France et en Allemagne »

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