Last month, I asked for questions to pose to Ariane Hegewisch about her report on cross-national perspectives on workplace flexibility. Here, at last, are some answers. The delay is entirely my fault — she was extremely prompt in responding when I sent them to her.
bj had wondered, "I thought the low proportions of women in private sector employment in
countries like Germany was well documented. Perhaps that’s not college
educated women? Not in the private sector?"
not have a huge public sector, and women are not predominantly working in
the public sector. Incidentally, this is partly because Germany does not have
well developed state services for children and eldercare, and does not have a
big state healthcare system. Germany is is probably almost as different from
Sweden as it is from the USA. Sweden on the other hand does have a big public
sector (which provides many of the services done in the private sector in the
US- such as childcare, aftercare and eldercare), and women are much more likely
to work in the public sector than in the private sector. Sweden also has high
birth rates, whereas Germany has very low ones.
Christine asked about discrimination: "Did they expect discrimination would follow regarding the hiring of
women of child-bearing years? What are governments with mandated
workplace flexibility doing to combat hiring discrimination? Have there
been studies done to compare discrimination against fathers that are
mandated to follow family leave policies vs. mothers?"
First, there is a bit of a confusion between ‘flexible working
rights’ and leave / work-family policies more generally. A 3 year job protected
parental leave period [as is available in Germany] is different from the right to work that leave on a
part-time basis (one is likely to reduce your employability, while the other one
is designed to maintain it).
years job protected parental leave is a considerable disincentive for
employers; Germany continues to have a very conservative climate for motherhood-
a lot of pressure coming from mothers and fathers, about what they think a ‘good
mother’ should look like. Germans have reacted to this with having one of the
lowest birth rates in the EU- there is a very stark choice between careers and
parenthood, and many women opt out altogether. This was not created by the
law- but the parental leave rights and social expectations mutually
re-enforce each other.
Now- looking at German flexibility rights in this
context- they are in fact designed to reduce that long gap, by making it easier
for parents to come back to work on a part-time bases earlier, instead of
staying out of the labor market altogether for three years, and by making it possible to
work in better part-time jobs (Germany has very high proportion of very low
quality part-time jobs). And they are deliberately open to all employees and all
circumstances (even though parents are the most likely to avail themselves of
these rights) to reduce the ‘mommy track’ association.
Now, on the other hand if you take
Denmark: here, working hours have come down for men and women (so that full-time
work is more combinable with care responsibilities); parents are able to have a
period of part-time work as part of their parental leave, which gets them back
to work faster. Part-time work overall has been falling, as people are more
likely to treat it as a short transitional period (for care or education).
And the pay gap is very low. (Although as always, this is because Denmark
overall has low pay differentiation, not just between men and
The discriminatory effect of a flexible working right
will depend on how far it is possible to spread the right in practice beyond
women as primary caregivers. This is a key policy design issue (not just law,
but also in terms of other supportive measures). Hence it has to be linked to
rights for male carers (as is the FMLA, and that ‘gender neutral’ design is
common to almost all laws), but also should be broadened away from
flexible working specifically for family care (as is done in the Netherlands,
Germany, France etc: where you can apply for change if you want to volunteer in
the community on the same basis as if you want to look after your toddler).
Flexible working rights at least in some countries were introduced because it
was clear that women were already much more likely to ‘work flexibly’ but had to
accept really bad working conditions for it. So flexible working rights were
introduce to lessen the discriminatory effects of the need to work flexibly.
She also notes:
There is discrimination now in the USA : pregnancy
discrimination has spiked; women systematically have different working patterns
from men; women are twice as likely as men to work part-time; women’s lifetime
earnings are markedly lower than men’s for these reasons. However, this facet of
gender discrimination is much less well recognised in the US than elsewhere. As
Joan Williams always says: the USA is a great place for women who work
like the ideal man (always, all-the-time); but it is a lousy place for women(and
men) who for any reason are unable or unwilling to do so. Many women
would like to spend some time with their children when they are young; however
full-time working requirements are such that this can be very
hard. And, if you have more than one child, childcare costs are such,
that economic incentives to look after your kids yourself are enornous. So:
flexible working is only one spike in the work life wheel, but one that is being
neglected in the USA. (It is a fair question whether flexible working rights on
their own will be able to achieve anything much without well established
part-time equity rights; better childcare; paid leave; and a better enforcement
environment generally for labor rights).
reported that US college educated women had the lowest labor force participation rates of any country
in the study (even though the more educated US women are, the more likely they
are to work). But Table 1 says that if you look at all women, the US is
the middle of the pack. So, I asked, does that imply that more educated women’s LFP is
more sensitive to these policy choices than less educated women’s?
We were surprised by this table too, so are still somewhat
speculating as to the reasons. In the US, as in other countries, highly
educated women are more likely to be employed as those with less qualifications.
However, because of the lower level of welfare support, poorer women have less
options of staying out of the workforce, and single mothers are much more likely
to be in work than elsewhere. Hence labor force participation differs less
between educational groups in the US thgan in many other countries. (And: it is
perhaps less that college ed women are more sensitive to work family policies
elsewhere, but that non-college ed women are given fewer options for not
Second reason for the
international differences is probably that the US has the highest proportion of
college ed. women; for example in Portugal- only 9% of women have tertiary
qualifications, in the US is it 38%. In that sense, to go for a degree you
probably are pretty determined and work educated in the first place, and less
likely to drop out later, than in the US where a much broadfer range of women
get college degrees. (The US has the highest level, but Sweden and Finland are
not far off).
Third: More women in the US
are college educated, and overall more women have kids (even though the US
shares the general trend that college ed women are less likely to have kids, or
have fewer kids, than other women), so (even though we do not have the figures)
I would imagine that the proportion of college educated women with more than one
kid is higher in the US than elsewhere).
My great thanks to Ariane for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully.