Women in Economic Development Research – Why the Woman’s Voice is Crucial: Part 4, View from an Experienced Researcher

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City-REDI has published a series of blogs celebrating women in economic development and the contribution we make. They are inspired by the current experience of City-REDI which is pretty unusual in its numbers of women at all levels in the team; from senior management and leading academics, through to early career researchers and project support. We all have different perspectives, journeys and are at different career points and these blogs celebrate the contribution we make to the team on International Women’s day.

Professor Anne Green – Professor of Regional Economic Development

As part of this series, I have considered some of the research I have undertaken over the years on women in the labour market. For most of this period, there has been rising employment for women and falling employment for men. In the last quarter of 2017 15.1 million women in the UK aged 16 and over were in employment and the employment rate was 70.8% for women, compared with 79.7% for men.

While my research tends not to have had a specific focus on women, there are four broad themes where gender perspectives have been particularly apparent: (1) gender-specific local labour market areas; (2) older people/women in the labour market; (3) women and public sector employment; and (4) decision-making dual career households and implications for geographical labour mobility.

First, regarding gender-specific local labour markets arising some of my early research focused on the analysis of commuting data. This research confirmed that, as expected, Travel-To-Work Areas (TTWAs) defined on the basis of aggregate commuting flow are generally more self-contained for women than for men. Rerunning a regionalisation algorithm on gender-specific commuting data generated more TTWAs for women than for men, with the greatest disparities in large urban areas. Much of this difference is driven by a greater share of women in part-time employment (as exemplified by analyses of 2011 Census data on commuting by the University of Newcastle and ONS using 2011 Census data).

But the real life complexity of the choreography of working and family lives can only be uncovered using more qualitative methods, with women lone parents, in particular, emphasising workplace location and flexibility alongside other aspects of jobs. Suitable, geographically accessible, local employment opportunities really matter for them.

Secondly, while there has been a good deal of research on the demise of the youth labour market, much of this work has tended to focus on young men and traditionally young women are more likely to have been forgotten, a sustained interest in older workers is a more recent phenomenon. Yet ‘living longer’ likely means a need for ‘working longer’. The case of so called ‘WASPI’ women, born in the 1950s who have been affected by the implementation of state pension age equalisation plans, has brought some of the challenges faced by older workers – particularly older women – to prominence in the UK. It has also highlighted how the labour market experiences and expectations of women in different birth cohorts have differed, as well as the diversity of experience of different sub-groups within cohorts (including by qualification levels).

Thirdly, a key feature of women’s position in the labour market is their disproportionate concentration, in comparison with men, in the public sector. In part, this helps to explain the advances they have made in the labour market given the availability of high quality jobs and opportunities for skills development in the public sector across many local areas. Currently, around 78% of jobs in the health and social work sector and 70% of jobs in the education sector are held by women. However, this very concentration makes women vulnerable to job cuts and wage freezes at times of austerity.

Fourthly, a question of ongoing interest for me over the years has been on the location and mobility decisions of dual career households, in which both partners wish to pursue careers. Whereas in the migration literature the term ‘trailing spouse’ has been used to describe one partner (usually a woman) treating their job as subservient to that of the other partner (usually a man), with increasing professionalisation of employment more people find themselves in dual career households. This calls for compromise in location and mobility decisions – perhaps with each partner ‘leading’ and ‘following’ at different points in time. Importantly for consideration of geographical mobility more generally, the rise of dual career households – which in turn is associated with increasing numbers of women in professional, associate professional and managerial occupations, is one of the factors cited in the recent decline in internal migration in several developed countries.

In conclusion, across the four themes highlighted here what is apparent is the sheer heterogeneity of women’s experience in the labour market. The position of a young lone parent who left education with no formal qualifications is likely very different from that of a degree-educated woman in a professional career. As more women enter employment economic development policies need to pay increasing attention to the varying constraints and opportunities facing women from different sub-groups and how these can differ across local areas.

By Anne Green, Professor of Regional Economic Development, City-REDI, University of Birmingham. 

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI or the University of Birmingham.

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To read part one of this series, click here

To read part two of this series, click here

To read part three of this series, click here

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