September, 2000, Vol. 123, No. 9
Canadian women and work
Book reviews from past issues
Canadian women and work
Women and Work. Edited by Richard P. Chaykowski and Lisa M. Powell. Montreal, Quebec, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999, 304 pp.
Women and Work is a series of nine essays, eight of which are developed from empirical studies. Several of these studies present new findings on labor force outcomes for working women in Canada. The studies are usually rigorous, while still presenting methodology and findings that are clear and easy to understand—even for those without extensive statistical backgrounds. For those who wish to know in greater detail how the studies were conducted, there is good documentation on the theory that supports the research, the data constraints and definitions, the findings from the regression analysis, and the interpretation of the findings. In addition, most of the studies were planned to add new insights into women’s labor force experience not available in previous studies.
The first study, The Gender Earnings Gap Amongst Canadian Bache-lor’s Level University Graduates: A Cross Cohort, Longitudinal Analysis by researchers Ross Finnie and Ted Wannell, is especially successful in uncovering new findings on the relationship between usual hours of work and earnings for women and men with bachelor’s degrees. The study revealed that female-male differences in hours worked were central factors in accounting for the overall gender earnings gap and its increase over the years. The effect of the female-male difference in hours explains 31 percent of the total earnings gap 2 years after graduation for the 1986 grads and for 38 percent of the much larger gap 5 years later. These effects were even greater for 1990 grads. More than half of the earnings gap was accounted for by differences in the number of hours worked by women and men graduates. The study also highlighted the significant earnings gap increase that occurs between 2 and 5 years after graduation for each set of graduates, even as the gap has narrowed between women and men at the time of graduation for each succeeding cohort.
Technology issues were examined in two papers. The essay, Technological Change, Organizational Change and Skill Requirements: Impacts on Women in the Workforce, used data from both establishment and household surveys to find that the exposure to technological and organizational change is similar for women and men.
In the paper, The Effect of Computer Skills and Training on Salaries: A Study of Male Resource Management Professionals, regression analysis explored whether or not computer skills were related to earnings for women and men. The study reported that for Human Resources professionals there is no strong relationship between the acquisition of computer skills and wages.
Another set of studies explored emerging issues related to welfare reform. In The Self-Sufficiency Project: What Have We Learned So Far? author John Greenwood found that cash payments made to single parents can be used to satisfy three conflicting goals of welfare reform: (1) increase work effort, (2) reduce poverty, and (3) reduce welfare dependence. The number of people working full time in the program group, 29 percent, was double the rate of people working full time in the control group, 14 percent. Each dollar increase in net transfer payments led to more than $2 in increased earnings, and more than $3 in additional income for recipients.
Two other studies focused on the characteristics of households that participated in social assistance and welfare programs, and measured their characteristics and outcomes.
The last two papers were concerned with unions, collective bargaining, and the effectiveness of laws promoting workplace gender equality. Unions, Collective Bargaining and Labour Market Outcomes for Canadian Working Women: Past Gains and Future Challenges contained empirical research conducted by Grant Schellenberg. But the research was not closely linked to the narrative heart of the paper developed by Andrew Jackson. The research did not serve as direct support for the multi-employer, sectoral bargaining strategy and broader based bargaining by occupation that Jackson advocated.
The last essay, The Impact of Labour Market Transformations on the Effectiveness of Laws Promoting Workplace Gender Equity, by Marie-Therese Chicha, was supported by no empirical research specifically designed for the study. However, findings from other research studies were used as supporting research material for the thesis that current labor market restructuring—including increasing "job enrichment," resulting in blurred and fluid job descriptions; increasingly complex employment relationships, such as subcontracting; and flexible compensation methods—outline a trend toward growing individualized employment rules and practices. Today’s laws may need to be changed to meet this new flexibility to preserve equity for women in the labor market.
Each of the papers added to knowledge about the conditions of work for women in Canada, but the first paper relating hours at work to earnings for women and men may be of substantial value in shaping research agendas in the United States as well as in Canada.
U.S. Department of Labor
Edited by Jonathan Michie and Angelo Reati. Northampton, MA, Edward Elger Publishing, Inc., 1998, 363 pp. $100.
Employment, Technology and Economic Needs: Theory, Evidence and Public Policy.
Employment issues have been a topic for discussion among academics and policymakers in Europe for several decades. Unlike in the United States, which is experiencing a long economic boom, many countries in Europe, such as Germany and France, are dealing with high unemployment levels. The debate includes the questions whether current politics are still applicable or should there be alternatives. The editors, Jonathan Michie, a professor of management at the University of London, and Angelo Reati, a staff member of the European Commission, put together a book based on a conference held in 1996 that examines other options to deal with the changing needs of the business community and how that affected employment.
The book is divided into four parts, each focusing on a specific aspect of the issue of employment and technology. Part One examines how politics and the economy affect employment and unemployment. Part Two deals with technology as a factor in the changing labor force. Part Three looks at the more practical aspects of employment. And Part Four concludes the book with a discussion of the policy options for employment issues. The chapters are written by academics from the United States and Europe.
Part One discusses the role of government in economic policymaking. For instance, what is the role of the government in fighting unemployment? Does a society find it more important to have wealth distribution than a low unemployment rate? What is the role of manufacturing in an economy? The answers to these questions determine the level of government involvement in the economy. Authors in this section show that, even though governments claim they interfere little in the economy, the fact that there are institutions creating rules and regulations makes it a regulated market economy. The chapter on the different levels of wage bargaining illustrates this point. One of these three is centralized bargaining, which could include the government. The authors suggest that there is a need for additional theoretical models to account for these institutions.
The second part of the book focuses on the role of technology in the economy and its effect on employment. One of the findings of the authors is that productivity has increased due to the use of technology, but there has not been an increase in employment. The writers attribute this to the fact that technology has been used for process innovation and not for product innovations. This might hold true for Europe where there has been high unemployment in many countries, but the United States has experienced the lowest unemployment levels in several decades. Two case studies on Germany and the United Kingdom in this section show that technology can push an economy to a higher level in order to reduce long-term unemployment.
The third part of the book deals with questions on what the role of regulations is in combating unemployment. Governments have changed many of the welfare benefits available, which means that workers had to adapt to a new work environment. Authors in this section prefer non-market solutions to reduce unemployment, instead of allowing the marketplace to be responsible for needed job growth. One option suggested is encouraging people to create their own jobs by establishing small businesses. From research conducted in two cities in England, it becomes clear that this option might create new jobs but also comes at a price of long hours and uncertainty. The question is whether many in Europe are willing to take the risks. Another issue that needs more attention is the role of government in making it easy for people to start a new business (over regulation).
The last part of the book looks at policies that can be adopted to deal with unemployment. One of the foci is on employment as a human right. If that assumption is made, then how can a society guarantee employment for every one? Several authors in this section make suggestions for creating full employment, such as giving everybody a base salary to ensure sustainability or reduce hours in a workweek to increase the number of workers employed.
The book was the result of an academic conference, which explains the academic tone of the contributions. The chapters are based on solid research, such as actual case studies, but some of the recommendations do not seem to have a good link with the actual circumstances in various European labor markets. This might be partly due to the time lapse between the conference and the final publishing date of the book. Still, the issue of technology will play an important role in creating employment and sustainable jobs in the future. The rapid changes in technology make policy making difficult, and this book, with its different suggestions, is one source for the debate on technology and employment.
The Beacon Council
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