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The reality behind a stalled gender equality revolution

The NEWFAMSTRAT project has left no stone unturned in its quest to identify the remaining obstacles to gender equality.


In the 1960s, European and North American women’s demands for liberation and emancipation was one of the defining social movements of the age. They wanted equal rights to employment. They asked for their children’s fathers to do their fair share in unpaid family work. Most of their revendications have since been met with progressive measures such as equal education opportunities, paid maternity leave, parental leave targeting fathers and narrowing gaps in wages and domestic assignments. Yet, researchers continue to claim that the gender revolution is incomplete, or even stalled. So, what happened? Well, no one knows exactly. NEWFAMSTRAT (The New Shape of Family-Related Gender Stratification) was launched to find out. “We have been analysing national data using advanced statistical techniques, as well as collecting primary experimental data. We interrogate the predictive power of economic theories, and then develop new testable theories that better map modern gender relations,” says Lynn Prince Cooke, professor of social policy at the University of Bath and principal investigator of European Research Council-supported NEWFAMSTRAT. The project, which runs until the end of 2021, looks at the very structure of gender inequalities at the individual, couple, organisational and societal levels. As gender relations are not the same for all women and men at each level, it also compares skill and wage differences in terms of inputs and outcomes.

Multilayered research

Cooke and her team picked three countries for their research: Finland, Germany and the United Kingdom, complemented by analyses of Canadian, American and other country data. The three countries were essentially selected because of their contrasting policy support for tackling gender divisions as well as the quality of the national data they had available. “Just like its Nordic neighbours, Finland was amongst the first countries to support dual-earning and -caring. It has universal well-paid leave for both parents, and it guarantees access to publicly funded full-time childcare for children under 3 years old. Germany, on the other hand, historically typified a strong male breadwinner / female carer model. “Change occurred during the 2000s with the expansion of public childcare and revised parental leave to encourage employment among medium-skilled women. Finally, the United Kingdom is the policy laggard, with policies consistently ranked the least generous in Europe,” Cooke explains. NEWFAMSTRAT explores gender inequalities by means of four subprojects. The first studies individual statistics on inequalities. The second assesses circumstances predicting egalitarian divisions in couples, while the third performs a comparative field experiment of potential hiring discrimination. The fourth subproject completes the picture by linking employee-employer data to assess how workplaces contribute to family-related inequalities. “Perhaps our most important findings thus far come from analyses of organisational processes. For example, when analysing Canadian-linked employee-employer data, we found that not only the magnitude, but also the organisational source of fathers’ higher wages varies by skill level. Over half of low-skilled fathers’ wages can be explained by the fact that they are likely to work in higher-wage firms before the birth of their first child,” Cooke adds. This sharply contrasts with high-skilled fathers who earn more regardless of the firm wage structure. Besides, high-skilled fathers gain from moving jobs after the first birth, whereas low-skilled ones lose their wage premium when doing so. Likewise, the team found that organisational policies affect the magnitude of group differences. Collective bargaining agreements unsurprisingly reduce skill differences in fathers’ net wages, while formal human resource departments increase skill differences. Actual compensation programmes such as merit-based or incentive pay, however, have no impact. Another major finding relates to analyses of Finnish and German employer-employee data. “These highlight that relative group advantage or disadvantage is also contingent on organisational social relations. For example, low-skilled Finnish fathers receive larger wage premiums when employed in firms with more fathers. This is another example of how lower-skilled groups benefit from collective action. German mothers are also more likely to receive employer training when supervised by a father than when supervised by either a woman or a childless man,” Cooke notes. With statistical analyses, data gathering and organisational analyses still well under way, the project team certainly have more findings up their sleeves. The project is much more than an intellectual exercise. It is set to lift the veil on dominant policy myths while suggesting more effective new policies and amendments to existing ones.


NEWFAMSTRAT, gender equality, emancipation, employment, gender divisions

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