Incoherent strategies - fragmented outcomes: raising women's employment rate in Germany.

Author:Betzelt, Sigrid
 
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1 Introduction

Most European citizens who provide care work in private households are women, and hence women's labour supply is necessarily constrained. Consequently, policies focusing on the transition between housework or care and paid employment are inextricably connected with equal employment policies though not identical as they obey different priorities. In the mid-nineties, women's employment had become a key issue to the enhancement of the effectiveness and economic productivity of European welfare states (Esping-Andersen 1999; Esping-Andersen, Gallie et al. 2001; Esping-Andersen 2002), and the European Employment Strategy (EES) institutionalised a political crossroad for equal employment policies (1) in Europe. However, since then, political support for equal opportunity policies at the EU level has evidently decreased. European social and employment policies have by and by been re-formulated in terms of 'social investment' which underlines the need to develop or maintain human capital rather than enhancing equality and justice (Jenson 2008). This underlying new logic is translated to employment policies in terms of 'activation' policies whose most relevant objective is to increase labour market participation. In principle, the political efforts have shifted from the enhancement of gender equality in employment to the increase of employment levels of women. (2) But to what extent are these two objectives reconcilable in practice?

The EES represents for the EU member states a dominating normative and political reference for domestic employment policy making. Of course, due to the lack of 'hard' instruments in the field of employment, the 'activation paradigm' has been transferred in fairly different ways to the national levels (Heidenreich/Bischoff 2008). Nevertheless, conceptual problems are likely to arise in the implementation of these two objectives on national level in a more or less pronounced form. Germany appears to be a particularly interesting example as the German gender regime on the one hand rather hampers the development of women's paid employment and gender equality. On the other hand, EU policies are considered as a crucial impetus for the development of equal employment policies (MacRae 2006). So, what implications does the EU employment strategy have when implemented in a conservative gender and employment regime like Germany? The hypothesis of this article is that the German labour market reforms introduced since Lisbon rather contribute to a further 'fragmentation' of the German gender regime than to a gradual transition towards a new clear-cut, more equality oriented gender regime. While doing little to change the basic principles and patterns of the implicit gender bias of the German employment regime, the 'path' of promoting traditionally female employment patterns and tolerating existing labour market segmentation has been largely continued. Overall, the underlying norms and incentives within the German gender regime are not fully coherent and sometimes even incompatible. The following in-depth analysis of German labour market policies will demonstrate in what terms the most recent employment policy reforms include contradictory and ambiguous incentives regarding the access and quality of women's employment and reproduce and enhance inferior patterns of labour market participation. A full recognition of non-standard employment trajectories and a compensation for career breaks, in particular due to care responsibilities within the family, still stand out to be implemented.

In the following section we outline the elements of the EU Employment Strategy and argue that the EU policy regime is itself inconsistent and incoherent, especially since the emergence of the activation paradigm. The third section is dedicated to the investigation of gendered patterns in the three main domains of labour market policy, i.e. the regulation of the employment contract, the income maintenance schemes, and active labour promotion measures, including their effectiveness regarding labour market transitions. Finally, we draw some conclusions on the impact of the Lisbon strategy on the gender regime in a conservative welfare state.

2 The ambiguity of the Lisbon strategy

The gendered division of labour is due to a multitude of different policies and regulations and underlying cultural norms. Instead of considering single policies separately, we need to take the interrelatedness of institutional devices and policy programmes into account. We will therefore outline the concept of a gender regime (2.1) which enables us to understand the logic of the EES (2.2), and, more specifically, the dilemmas of activation policies for women's employment (2.3).

2.1 Gender regimes as an analytical framework

The 'institutional school' of employment policy research has pointed to the interrelatedness of policies and the need for coordination in order to avoid inconsistent incentives (Schmid 1994; Bosch, Rubery et al. 2007). This perspective suggests taking account of a bundle of measures simultaneously in policy analysis as well as in policy making and to design policies with regard to the coordination with other programmes and instruments. Institutionalist gender research in political science still enlarges this perspective, pointing to the societal context in which policy regimes are embedded (for an overview see Betzelt 2007). They define a gender regime as a "formal and informal organisation of political organisation according to the gender divide which embraces institutions, organisations as well as norms and discourses and which regulates the gender relations, the access of women to positions of power as well as the perceptions and stereotypes about men's and women's roles in society" (Rosenberger/Sauer 2004: 259, transl. by the authors).

Unlike the concept of policy regime the gender regime perspective is not limited to the analysis of sets of institutional rules in terms of coordination and consistency. Moreover it points to underlying normative patterns which are reflected in the political discourse, in institutional regulation but also in social practices. Institutionalists would confirm that changes do not always cover all elements of a gender regime at the same time - processes of change are therefore considered as incremental processes of shift, drift or layering of policy logics (Streeck/Thelen 2005). But undoubtedly, policy reforms in general aim at increasing societal integration, or decreasing social tensions, as ideally, policy-making responds to politically articulated functional or normative needs. Consequently, we assume that policies correlate with a societal ideational structure (or a paradigm, Hall 1993) which includes normative as well as technical knowledge about policies. At the same time policy reforms should, in the ideal case, attain a better fit in terms of responding to or supporting new social practices. Related to employment policies, the idea that every adult individual should be in paid employment would be reflected in a consistent and coherent set of policy measures, e.g. lower barriers for the access to paid employment, the offer of special support programmes etc. Ideally, they would correspond to an increased employment orientation of people (= women) and to their preferences.

In contrast to such a 'harmonic' picture, we consider a policy regime as 'fragmented' if increasing inconsistency or even contradiction between policy incentives occurs due to a lack of instrumental coordination. In the normative dimension a policy regime is fragmented, if the underlying norms of a policy conflict with given patterns of social behaviour and practices, e.g. women's employment preferences; here fragmentation denominates incoherence (Bothfeld 2008). We assume the EES to be highly fragmented in technical as well as in normative terms and that this in turn contributes to the fragmentation of domestic policy regimes.

2.2 The ambiguity of the EU employment strategy

Regulation on equal opportunity in a narrow sense (i.e. equal pay) has existed in the EU since the Treaty of Rome (Art. 119, now Art. 157 Treaty on the Functioning of the EU - TFEU). Gender equality in employment is often considered as one pillar of the European Social Model although its implementation has been inert for many years and the elaboration of binding law was largely due to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Today, the value of gender equality is mentioned in the preamble of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Unions' responsibility to promote gender equality is stated in Art. 3 TEU. Accordingly, the EU's equal opportunity policy has broadened, covering all sectors of economic and social life (Wahl 2005).

(a) The EU Employment Strategy

The Treaty of Amsterdam and the European employment strategy with the Council's agreement on employment objectives (raising women's employment rate to 60%) have been the crucial landmarks in European equal employment policies. The promotion of gender equality in the labour market constituted one of four pillars (together with employability, entrepreneurship and adaptability) in the original strategy set up in 1998; this objective was newly underlined by formulating additional guidelines on gender mainstreaming and equal pay in 1999 (EGGSIE 2008). After the first four year period however the EES was changed, and the equality objective was removed as such. In 2005, the EES fundamentally changed its character: In the light of weak economic growth, the employment policy objectives were combined with macro and micro economic objectives. Employment objectives were formulated as eight new employment guidelines which no longer comprised gender equality as a specific guide-line (ibid.). Since 2005 gender issues have been solely indirectly addressed in terms of a high level of women's employment, the quality of employment (guideline 17), the 'life cycle approach' to...

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