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Recession and Austerity: Gender Equality Jeopardized

By Anne Eydoux,[1] Antoine Math,[2] and Hélène Périvier[3]

The crisis that began in 2008 has hit European countries diversely, causing economic and labour market disequilibria of more or less magnitude. As with past global crises, the current one has gendered implications. While women’s employment is said to have been preserved relative to men’s in the early stage of a recession, austerity plans implemented in several countries to limit public deficits and debts are deemed to affect female workers more deeply. How gendered are labour market changes in recession and austerity and how should cross-country differences be analysed? This special issue of the Revue de l’OFCE notably points out the protective role of the gendered segregation of labour markets (i.e. the fact that women and men do not work in the same sectors or occupations): male-dominated sectors (construction, industry, etc.) are generally first hit in recession, while female-dominated sectors (services and the public sector) remain quite sheltered from a quick drop in the demand for labour – but are exposed to job losses at a later stage.

This collective publication aims to shed light on the differences in the gendered dimensions of past and/or present crises and related policies’ impacts on European labour markets. The issue includes several comparative papers that either deal with gender at the European Union (EU) level, encompassing a variety of European countries, or that focus on more specific groups of countries, such as those most hit by the crisis and austerity (central and eastern European (CEE) countries, southern countries) or ‘continental’ countries (France, Germany). To complete the picture, a focus on specific country cases helps understanding the great variety of crises and how related policies impact on gender in labour markets. For instance, in Germany where female employment has apparently been spared the effects of recession in quantitative terms, the focus is on the low quality of women’s jobs. In central and eastern Europe, as well as in southern countries such as Greece, Portugal and Spain, male and female employment has been so deeply affected in quantitative terms (both in the recession and in the austerity phase of policy) that poverty and material deprivation have increased for all. In the UK, the impact of the recession and austerity has been selective, increasing existing inequalities by gender and by ethnicity, as well as within each category. In Sweden, where the public sector is widespread and female-dominated, the impact of recessions on women’s employment has been delayed, occurring in austerity phases through the downsizing of the local government sector.

Various approaches are developed in this issue. First of all, many papers show the importance of the timing of recessions and define several phases with different gender implications, often distinguishing the recession and the austerity phases or adding an intermediate phase of recovery. When it comes to the analysis of crisis related policies, the phases may however sometimes appear less sharply, overlapping instead of alternating, for instance when austerity measures were implemented prior to the crisis – eventually in line with the economic governance of the euro zone or with a previous downturn. Several papers cover the long-term changes in labour market or public policies, trying to identify the impact of recession and austerity on trends in female and male employment (or foregone employment growth), and/or to question the change in public policies from a gender perspective. Others rather focus on the short-term gender impact of recession and austerity, exploring the relevance of common hypotheses regarding the demand for labour (segregation or buffer effects) or the labour supply (discouraged-worker or added-worker effects).

[1]              Centre d’études de l’emploi, anne.eydoux@cee-recherche.fr.

[2]              Ires, antoine.math@ires-fr.org.

[3]              OFCE-Presage, helene.perivier@ofce.sciences-po.fr.

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