- The German Sociological Debate on Labour Market Segmentation and Social Inequality 1


Zentrum für Sozialpolitik Abteilung Geschlechterpolitik im WohlfahrtsstaatParkallee 39, D- 28209 Bremen phone:++49-(+)421-218-4402 fax:++49-(+)421-218-9567

The Paper was presented at the 21st Conference of the International Working Party on Labour Market Segmentation, The Transformation of Labour Markets and Employment Systems since the Seventies: A Reflection on the Theoretical Implications Bremen (Germany), September 9th to 11th 1999


Revised version of a paper given at the 21st Conference of the International Working Party on Labour Market Segmentation:The Transformation of Labour Markets and Employment Systems since the Seventies: A Reflection on the Theoretical Implications, Bremen (Germany), Sept. 0911th, 1999.


There are good reasons for the assumption that the still high level of horizontal and vertical gender specific segregation on national labour markets will persist in the course of the flexibilisation of labour markets and the transformation of employment systems beyond this century. At the same time we have to take into account that there are significant differences in the national segregation structures in Western countries; the reference to segregation itself thus cannot not provide an adequate picture. While these facts are widely accepted within the scientific community, theoretical explanations are still controversial or do not seem adequate to account for distinct features of social change like for example the differentiation of patterns of labour market participation among women or the growing gap between standards of employment in the public and private sector. In my paper I refer to the German debate on labour market segmentation and social inequality. Here since the seventies, distinct sociological labour market approaches such as the theory of the threefold segmentation of internal markets by Sengenberger and the theory of social closure by Parkins have been adopted for innovative socio-political explanations of labour market crisis and social change including gender. Feminist criticism however, drawing on a broad set of empirical data, demonstrated that these innovative understandings of the institutional framework and the mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion of the labour market need correction, too. This debate will be revisited in the first part of my paper. In the second part I will turn to some new feminist approaches. With a differentiated notion of the gendererd character of institutions and a renewed emphasis on agency, they trie to assess the specific national features of gender relations as well as the broader similar trends in the patterns of gender inequality across western countries. As I will show, they provide valuable insights but also put questions for further analysis of social change.2 Socio-political approaches as innovative frameworks for labour market analysis In West Germany the post war dream of neverending economic growth accompanied by an expanding welfare state persisted comparatively long (Lutz 1984). Only since the midseventies have growing rates of unemployment caused irration and challenged conventional economic thories as well as sociological explanations of labour market functioning and social structure. Conventional sociological views, Marxist as well as Weberian, seemed unified by an 'orthodox consensus' in the understanding of social
2 For a more elaborated argumentation on the German discourse on gender, work and social inequality see Gottschall 1999.


inequality. Although opposed in their original theoretical background, they agreed in the view that social structure is formed by participation in the system of paid work and can be empirically described through reference to occupational positions. Thus they failed to analyze not only women's position in society and the gender specific labour market segmentation, but also other complex features of social inequality, like the structured natire of unemployment or the emergence of new managerial groups (see Kreckel 1983b, 1989a; Hradil 1987). Here the work of two social scientists, Claus Offe and Reinhard Kreckel, both more or less inspired by the Habermas strand of Critical Theory, opened up new terrain. Two arguments are of interest here. First, as opposed to neoclassical theory, structural functionalism as well as traditional marxist approaches, they argued that the structure of social inequality and the dynamics of social conflicts can only be understood if the labour market itself is seen not as a merely economically, but also as a politically regulated system: State legislation on social security, corporatist structures of industrial relations, the linkages of employment, training and educational systems these all have to be taken into account, too. This led to a differentiated analysis of labour market structures which attempted to combine Marxist and Weberian views: Besides the primary (vertical) conflict line of employer and employee, further (vertical and horizontal) power asymmetries between more and less powerful groups of workers have to be considered. They can be understood as a result of different, albeit interacting strategies of the supply and demand side, which are both modified by state intervention. In this view, occupational differentiation is a result of qualification investments by individual workers and state regulated certification systems. Combined with special strategies of the demand side, these individual strategies, as well as corporative action, lead to labour market segmentation. Against this background, even noncredentialist forms of exclusion, particularly on grounds of gender, age or ethnicity can be adressed: As strategies of social closure practised by occupational groups, that are powerful enough to define the rules of inclusion. Secondly, the above named authors emphasized, that the labour market as a core institution of modern capitalistic societies does not include all members of society. Drawing on the early feminist insights on the family as a place of work for women, they demonstrate that the existence of a private reproductive sphere, where the individual worker regenerates, where children are raised and elder people cared for, is a prerequisite for the 'standard


worker' with fulltime and uninterrupted employment who constitutes the core of the modern labour market. Undoubtedly this socio-political understanding of the labour market set new standards for analyzing social inequality and seemed especially sensible to grasp social change at the level of policies. It did not, however, provide an adaequate framework to explicate gender specific labour market segmentation, and had some failings in understanding those features of modernization, that are connected with women's emancipation and the expansion of the service sector. Offe, for example, in his well known study on the structure of unemployment in West Germany at the end of the seventies, argues that the above average unemployment rates of women, young people, disabled persons, and immigrants sociologically can be understood as a result of the fact that these groups in welfare state societies are vested with alternative social roles. Special welfare state arrangements and cultural norms facilitate and legitimate the labour market exclusion of these groups for employers as well as for trade unions; for the effected groups they result in a lack of self-confidence and in an instable attitude towards paid work (Offe 1977; Offe/Hinrichs 1984). Thus the author equates gender, age, health status, and national membership as ascribed attributes. Concurrent with other advocates of the german version of the segmentation theory (see Sengenberger 1978; Lappe 1981) he envisages women in general as a problem group of the labour market, assuming that they are usually part of the insecure segment of internal labour markets. Feminist scholarship, however, drawing on a broad set of empirical data, shows, that significant features of structural change since the sixties in West Germany have been growing employment rates of mothers of small chlidren, a rise of women's educational levels and the inroads women made in qualified service sector work, be it the semiprofessions of nursing, teaching and technical assistence or in clerical and managerial work. In the eighties, nearly 40% of the female work force was concentrated in these fields (Gottschall 1989:14pp). Even if we take into account that the increasing employment rates of women went hand in hand with a high proportion of part-time work that often did not fit the standards of the normal employment relationship, the generalizing view of women as a problem group of the labour market obviously did not match this reality. If we follow the theory of the threefold segmentation, the majority of working women could be found neither in the secure nor in the insecure internal market but in the third, not shop floor bound tier, characterized by a qualified mobile workforce. Here limitations of the segmentation approach become evident: It cannot account for differences in career


possibilities and occupational status of men and women, who share the same qualification level. Answering to this deficit, Reinhard Kreckel advanced a more Weberian influenced understandig of social inequality. In his studies, labeled as a political sociology of social inequality, he focuses on the agency of society members vested with different economic, cultural, social, and politcal capital (Kreckel 1992). Refering to Parkin's theory of social closure (Parkin 1974) he argues, that women's discrimination in the labour market especially if they are as skilled as men - derives from a lack in social and political representation, due to their family obligations. Thus, they are not part of the power triangle of capital, male workers and the state, that via corporatist action secures labour market inclusion for the standard worker, but makes it difficult for other groups to get in. (Apart from women, Kreckel identified immigrants as a systematically marginalized group: Not meeting the criteria of 'national citizinship' they are restrained to illegal work and unsecure labour market segments). The notion of social closure seems fruitful to understand gender specific segregation, especially in the field of professions, as some feminist scholars show (see Witz 1992; Wetterer 1992b). As a general explanation of gender unequality in the labour market it does not, however, go far enough, because it concentrates on social action and underestimates the gravity of institutionalised structures. It does not take into account that results of action in the past continue to have an effect as an ongoing structural constraint in the presence. Two examples may illustrate this argument: -The devaluation of industrial female work – stereotyped as light work, requiring only 'nimble fingers' compared to hard manual male work, demanding technical skills -, is coded in collective bargaining contracts and it has been reinforced by the categories industrial sociology used to analyse work. It took years and a lot of pressure to question these taken for granted assumptions in political life and within the scientific community. -The same applies for the debunking of another common argument: The fact that women, even if they are not bound by familiy obligations, have difficulties to transform their cultural capital in professional careers is not only due to weak individual and collective bargaining power. This discrimination feature can only be understood, if we look at the way gender is built in the institutions of education and training. In Germany, by a tradition dating back from the nineteenth century, the training for qualified jobs is splitted in the so called dual, factory based vocational training, preparing for industry and trade work,


conceptualized as a lifelong breadwinner position for men on the one hand, and a school bound training system, preparing for most of the service sector positions, conceptualized as cultural work for women on the other hand. Although these systems are comparable in the standards of qualification they require and provide, they differ in terms of individual costs, democratic legitimation and carreer prospectives: Only the dual system track provides apprentice wages, participation in co-determination and acces to internal labour markets, while the semi-public vocational training system like for example for nursing or clerical work keeps the participants in the status of pupils, demands fees and provides only weak inroads to the labour market (Krüger 1991a). Even Offe, with a more objectivistic and institutionalistic view than Kreckel, did not grasp this gendered character built in the institutions and mechanisms of the labour market. This is due to the generalising character of his argument. Although he analyzed the labour market crisis of a specific national society, his message aimed at the late capitalistic welfare state in general. Furthermore he equated different social groups, like women, young people, immigrants, as objects of a decommodification orientated welfare state policy, without regard to their different material and social positions. Thus, he could not specify,why especially these groups were affected and what that meant for the profile of the occupational structure. In this respect other authors, drawing on Esping- Anderson's typology of welfare states (Esping-Anderson 1985, 1990) provided more insights. In a comparative analysis of West Germany, the USA, and Sweden Häußermann and Siebel argued that different types of welfare states mark different pathways into the service sector society. As they could show, there is a strong interrelationsphip between the structure and expansion of the service sector, the monetary transfer- or service-intensity of welfare state policy and the form and extend of women's labour market participation (Häußermann/ Siebel 1995). Following their analysis, the German path can be characterized as a desintegrating welfare state model with a hardly dynamic, self-service orientated service sector and low female employment rates, compared to the market integrated US and the public service expansive Swedish society, both of which perform a high female labour market participation. To conclude this debate one could say, that the discussed socio-political approaches are innovative insofar as they reveal the 'standard worker' as a socio-politically constructed basis of the labour market system in advanced capitalistic societies, and as they introduce the state as a major actor in the process of social change. They can, as the above named study of Häußermann/ Siebel demonstrates, be made sensible to national differences in


capitalistic modernization. These insights, however, remain limited as long as they implicitly assume that public policies and collective strategies, the institutions of the labour market and the profile of occupational positions are gender neutral. This leads to the second part of my argument. New feminist approaches: From patriarchal structures to gendered institutions Some new feminist approaches move on from here, promoting a differentiated notion of the gendered character of institutions and a renewed emphasis on agency. Thus, they try to overcome some shortcomings of older feminist critique of the nature of the labour market and the concepts developed for its analysis. From the seventies onwards feminist scholarship had pointed out, that house work is women's work, and that the lifelong responsibility for family duties and the character of this work helps to understand the gender specific segregation of the labour market. In this context, some german authors, more prone to Simmels and Webers view of modern societies than to Marxist ideas, emphasized that women form a different work force because of their familily duties (Beck-Gernsheim/Ostner 1978), while other authors, refering to the early Critical theory, stressed the fact, that women are not only different but also deprived, due to their responsibility for reproductive work, but also due to male pressure in the labour force, the public sphere and at home (Becker-Schmidt 1987a,1991; Knapp 1987). During the eighties, these different approaches, both based on empirical data, provided controversial explanations of women's labour market participation, labeled as the 'difference' versus 'hierarchy' debate (Wetterer 1992b). They had in common however, a somewhat stereotyped view of women, be it the 'familiy orientated caring house-wife', preferably working part-time, and performing distance to the norms of paid work, or the 'double burdenend working mother' integrated and exploited by a patriachal and capitalistic system of industrial work. These reduced understandings partly derived from a generalistic notion of the 'modern' or 'capitalistic society', characteristic of these approaches. Similar to the still grand theory orientated above named socio-political frameworks the older feminist thinking thus did not seem sensible enough to detect changes in the patterns of women's occupational biography and emancipatory gains in women’s private and professional life. The macrosociological orientation and the supposed structural bias of this feminist scholarhip has been challenged in the nineties, when the complex features of social inequality including new differentations among women, along the lines of citizinship,


family status and generation, gained more social and scientific attention. The feminist assumption, that 'gender' like 'class' represents a powerful stratyfying principle equally central to all structures of society now is questioned while at the same time political strategies refering to the 'equality agenda' are highly debated. A wide range of new arguments, varying considerably in theoretical background, has come up. I will refer only to some of these arguments. There are German as well as Anglo-american feminist contributions to the sociology of the workplace and of labour markets that move away from the view of the workplace and the labour market as a site of patriarchal exclusion, and instead emphasize the interactive social construction of masculinities and feminities. This shift in focus, as I have argued elsewhere, sheds new light on the contingent character of the forming of gender specific lines of segregation: If and how job profiles, especially in service industries are defined as men’s or women’s work and thus put in a social hierarchy to a certain degree depend on social interaction patterns by men and women concerned in their roles as service provider or customer. The limitations of this microsociological viewpoint can be seen, especially in attemps that subscribe to the interpretative paradigm, in that conditions of action which go beyond the understanding of the person involved cannot be systematically recorded (Gottschall 1998). More helpful are arguments which also take into consideration the intermediate level of institutions and collective social practise. These can identify patterns of action in a differentiated and socio-historical contexted way as they are related for example to Neo-Fordist rationalisation strategies, company specific work cultures or specific labour market policies (cf. Cockburn 1991; Gottfried/Graham 1993; Heintz et al 1997). Further suggestions for the analysis of gender specific labour market segregation come from the feminist welfare state discussion. In recent years this discussion has corrected the notion of a gender neutral „standard employment relationship“, as found in the above mentioned socio-political approaches, towards the more precise category of a 'male breadwinner model'. Furthermore feminist scholarship completed the dominant aspect of commodification in these approaches by the aspect of being tied to the family (Acker 1988; Ostner 1995). Investigations of national welfare state policies and modernization pathes which apply such an extended frame of reference, make clear that particularly EspingAnderson’s welfare state typology, differentiating as it does between liberal, conservative and socialdemocratic regimes, can only make a limited statement on gender specific differences in social status. Studies conducted by various (female) authors show for


example that the welfare regime not only of Germany but also of the Netherlands is characterized by a strong male breadwinner model. However in Esping-Anderson’s typology, which is widely adopted for comparative labour market analysis, these countries are opposed as being corporate/conservative (the case of Germany) on the one hand and as social democratic on the other (the case of the Netherlands) (Ostner/Lewis 1994). It is also interesting to note that these approaches, unlike the older feminist research, are not based on the Marxist inspired sociological category of „gender relations“. Using categories such as „gender order“ or „gender contract“ and theoretical reference points like for example Giddens‘ structuration theory, they follow more closely the notion that the institutional framework of gender relations, the allocation of work and the power structures in modern societies are strongly influenced by cultural norming. Asymmetric gender relations thus are seen less often as an expression of cohersion, buth rather accounted for as „balances of power“. These can be relatively stable orders, limited in time and space (PfauEffinger 1993). One advantage of this viewpoint is that it draws attention to the roles played by cultural norming in the formation of social practises and in the structuring of institutions. At he same time one danger of refering to the notion of gender order, as we know of the criticism of the Parsonian understanding of social roles, is that it assumes an unproblematic correspondence of norms, behaviour patterns and institutional frameworks instead of highlightening their relationship to the object in question. Least suceptible to this danger are those arguments, which clearly differentiate between structure, norm and social practise and at the same time concede that the relastions between them may be consensual as well as contradictionary or conflict loaden. As Birgit Pfau-Effinger’s study on the development of women‘s employment patterns in different countries shows, important aspects of social change in the last decades, especially national differences in pathways to modernization, can thus be made acessible to an analysis (PfauEffinger 1998a and b). Following the same line other authors see the construction of norms and the possibility of enforcing them as a major subject of social debate. There are discourse analysis approaches on the establishment of particular policies (see Jenson 1989; Behning 1999) as well as studies geared to Bourdieu. The latter especially examine how gender or ethnically defined memberships are used in times of globalisation and increased social conflict as a resource in the fight for jobs and social security (Lenz 1996; Gümen 1996; Körber 1998; Dörre 1997).


Attention should be drawn finally to a further moment of theoretical and methododical innovation, particularly in the German discussion. Here research into gender specific labour market segregation can also gain from thinking models and elaborated research methods of the a special strand of sociology of life course which is concerned with status passages. This field of socicl sciences has produced important findings on the gendered character of what is called the ‚standard life course‘ (Normalbiographie) and on the changes of labour market integration patterns among women by comparing different generations (Mayer et al.,1991; Born et al.,1996). For example one research group, located in the SfB 189 at Bremen University ('Status passages and risks in the life course') demonstrated in a partly representativ study on employment histories and family obligations among women which attended vocational training in the fifties that even this older generation in the fifities and sixties, when their children were still small, performed employment continuity, albeit in the informal sector and as part time work. That this stable work orientation, a pattern normally attributed to a later generation of women, for so long escaped the attention of sociologists and the public, is explained by the authors through the fact that the women concerned kept their jobs secret (or better unseen) from spouse and neighbours in order not to upset the norm of being a „good housewife and mother“ (Born/Krüger 1993; Born et al.;1996). The arguments mentioned have in common that they work with theories of middle range or that they combine theoretical thinking and empirical research following the methodological ideas of the 'grounded theory' approach. This, together with the comprehensive stockpile of methods available in form of cross nationals comparisons and longitudinal analysis, enable us, to examine social change in more precisely defined socio-historical contexts than the reference to the older more generalizing macrosociological viewpoints would allow. Labour market research should continue to profit from these perspectives and at the same time not forget to make theories and methods more gender sensitive.


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