Ambitious women, overqualified in underpaid jobs - March 8, 2010

Women are as ambitious as men when it comes to their career. Just as men they find a decent salary and reward opportunities the most important career drivers. Having children does not influence these priorities. Yet working women too often are overqualified for the work they do, whereas men are not. This means that there is a lot of potential on the labour market that remains untapped because women are frustrated in their career ambitions. This picture emerges from an international comparison of the factors influencing women’s decisions to work, involving 43 countries. The picture becomes worse still, since working mothers on the whole are paid less than working women without children. The burden of household and child care in combination with being underpaid for the work they do, puts working mothers in a dead-end street.   

The findings are based on a sample of 345,000 data collected by WageIndicator online surveys in 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 in those 43 countries. The data was analyzed by Income Data Services, the British research partner of WageIndicator, on behalf of ITUC, the International Trade Union Confederation. The results are published on March 8, international women’s day.  

Overall, it is predominantly women who take on the largest share of household duties, and this trend is reinforced among respondents with children.

Contributes most to household tasks
Has children Gender
male female
Without children Count 3,809 7,215
  % within Gender 28.1% 45.0%
With children Count 2,620 10,022
  % within Gender 16.6% 81.5%

The inequality in the contribution to household tasks is reinforced among respondents with children. In all but one of the 15 countries for which there is enough data, the proportion of women who say they contribute most to household tasks is higher than that of men. Among respondents with children, men contribute even less than among respondents without children, while the opposite is true for women. This means that achieving a good work-life balance is more difficult for women than men (especially among those with children), and also hinders career development and decisions for work.

The tendency for women to contribute most to household tasks feeds through to the results on work-life balance. The proportion of women who say they find it hard to combine work and family is higher than the proportion of men who say so, and that, in some cases, nearly half or more of all women surveyed found it difficult to combine work and family.

Finds combining work and family tough
Has children Gender
male female
Without children Count 6,492 6,353

% within Gender 33.7% 37.5%
With children Count 7,160 6,837

% within Gender 37.2% 49.4%

Overall, respondents with children find it more difficult to combine work and family than respondents without children. In all 17 countries for which there is enough data on this issue, women with children are more likely to find it hard to combine work and family than women without children. In nine of the 17 countries, this is also the case for men. However, the difference is starker among women, and the proportion of women with children who find it difficult to combine work and family is higher than that of men.

The fact that women still tend to take on the largest share of household duties and childcare has a clear impact on their working patterns. In the overall sample, the proportion of men who work full-time hours is larger than that of women.

 Has full-time working hours 
Has children Gender
male female
Without children Count 66,261 45,238
  % within Gender 88.6% 81.5%
With children Count 63,702 31,048
  % within Gender 94.0% 70.6%

The proportion of men who work full-time is greater than that of women. The proportion of men who work full-time also tends to be higher among those with children than among those without children. For women, on the other hand, the proportion who works full-time is higher among respondents without children than among those with children. It is clear that the proportion of women who work part-time and say that this is because they are looking after children is much larger than among men who work part-time. Also, in all 22 countries with enough data, the proportion of women who say they have good career opportunities is lower among those with children than for those without children.

Despite the inequalities in terms of the division of household and childcare duties and the impact on workplace and career opportunities, women and men are often driven by the same ambitions when looking for work.

Important factors when looking for work 
  Gender
male female
Decent salary Without children 92.6% 93.5%
With children 91.0% 93.0%
Reward opportunity Without children 86.3% 86.8%
With children 86.0% 87.1%
Quality of job Without children 82.0% 85.6%
With children 80.4% 85.0%
Career prospects Without children 78.9% 79.4%
With children 71.6% 71.1%
Challenge Without children 71.9% 71.9%
With children 69.7% 69.7%
Suitable working hours Without children 64.3% 73.7%
With children 65.9% 81.7%
Flexible hours Without children 53.7% 57.8%
With children 55.3% 67.0%
Work/family combination Without children 50.1% 54.7%
With children 61.3% 67.9%
Firm kindergarten/employer contribution to childcare Without children 19.6% 25.2%
With children 25.5% 31.4%

The most important factors when looking for a job are the same among both men and women: a decent salary and reward opportunities are at the top of the list, however job quality, career prospects and ‘challenge’ are also important. This shows that women have similar ambitions to men, and would like to have the same opportunities and pay as men.

However, there are some other areas where there are clear differences between men and women, and also a difference depending on whether or not respondents have children. These variables are related to work-life balance, and finding a job that is suitable to also meeting childcare and housekeeping commitments. For example, 74% of women without children said that suitable working hours are important when they look for a job, compared to 64% of men without children. Among respondents with children, this rises to 82% of women and 66% of men. Similarly, flexible hours, work/family combination and either a company kindergarten of employer contribution to childcare are more important to women than to men when they look for a job.

Beyond the factors that influence women’s decisions for work, there is one variable which tends to illustrate the disadvantaged position of women in the workplace particularly well, and that is pay. There is a variety of evidence that proves that women earn less than men. Overall, the median gender pay gap based on this sample from the survey is 27% in favour of men. This figure has not changed significantly since a previous analysis (October 2009), when it stood at 28%. The gap is narrower for those without children (20%) and wider for those with children (32%). The gap is also more pronounced among respondents who work full-time (24%) than among those who don’t (20%).

The gender pay gap illustrates the gender inequality which still exists in the workplace but could also explain some of the conservative gender roles that still persist. For example, it might be because women tend to earn less than men that men carry the biggest burden of bringing in an income, whereas women carry the biggest burden of household duties and work part-time/stay at home to look after children. However, this choice is only available for couples, and means that the inequalities experienced by single women are even more pronounced.

Median gender pay gap 

 

Median hourly gross wage in national currency

Median pay gap

 

male

female

All respondents

20.01

14.75

27%

Without children

17.32

13.86

20%

With children

23.06

15.69

32%

Has full-time hours

20.21

15.31

24%

Does not have full-time hours

15.16

12.17

20%

Download

The ITUC Decisions for work report in English, Spanish or French:

Warberg, A., Withers, L. (2010). Decisions for Work: An examination of the factors influencing women’s decisions for work. (EN/ES/FR)

 March 8, 2010


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