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Gender and labour market restructuring in Central and Eastern Europe

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter

Publication date7/02/2002
Host publicationWork, Employment and Transition: Restructuring Livelihoods in Post-Communism
EditorsAl Rainnie, Adrian Smith, Adam Swain
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)0203994353, 9781134534982
ISBN (Print)0415249422, 9780415249423
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies of Societies in Transition


Early predictions that gender bias would pervade the process of labour market transformation in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) were made in a vacuum, insofar as themove from commandprinciples tomarket direction had not occurred before. Implicit in the forecasts was an assumption either that women’s positionwas worse previously than some market norm and would deteriorate further, or that women held a favourable position under communism and that this would be lost. However, the usual seeds of female disadvantage - relatively low educational and health status (IBRD 1995) - were largely absent in the communist world.‘Initial conditions’ are often held to be important determinants of transformation possibilities, strategies and trajectories, and these varied much more than was commonly supposed in the Soviet realm of influence (Allen 1992). As such, it is a little surprising that identical arguments regarding the negative impacts of change on the position of women have been applied to all transition economies. A small number of examples must serve to characterise the gloomy prognosis for women pervading the early literature. In the case of Bulgaria it was argued that ‘[d]espite the disposition to work, in the conditions of mounting unemployment the risks for women are greater than those for men’ (Kostova1993:104). For the former Soviet Union (FSU) it was maintained that t’he labour market, just being formed, is already two-sided, insofar as a secondary labour market and marginal position has emerged for women’ (Posadskaya1993:163-164).Hungary’s history was rather different to that of the preceding two countries yet,‘[a]s the economy moves in the direction of greater reliance on markets under stagnant economic conditions, women are likely to suffer disproportionately’ (Weil 1993: 284). Finally, the Polish experience was different again, yet ‘[t]he transition from a centralized economy to a free market economy, and the accompanying unemployment, has created new problems and particular dangers for women . . .' (Kuratowska 1991: 54).While doubtless deliberate, such predictions are rhetorical in content and the following section of the chapter provides a critique of their underlying assumptions. Incomplete as reform may be, it is just about possible, ten years on, to begin to think in terms of comparing outcomes across the transition economies, aided by data that has been generated on a reasonably consistent basis. Using an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) summary database of the western inspired Labour Force Surveys (LFS) that have now become established features in many countries of the region, this chapter takes some initial steps towards establishing what these outcomes have been.This is of course a case of being wise after the event; early commentators did not have such information against which to measure their predictions. However, many of the original beliefs persist and one can still read that ‘[reform has] contributed to their [women’s] exclusion from the labor force . . .' (UNDP 1999: 68); ‘[d]uring the transition . . . women find it more difficult than men to hold onto paid employment . . .' and ‘[w]hen it comes to making a choice between men and women, employers usually select men . . .' (UNDP1999:70). The measurement of female labour market disadvantage in what follows is as holistic as possible, given the source employed. The third section provides some background on the major labour market aggregates: employment, participation and unemployment.The fourth section then presents an overview of the evidence on the emergence of more flexible labour markets and the roles that men and women are playingwithin them.A formal test of the significance of the differences emerging from the preceding discussion occupies the following section. As the architects of market-oriented reform laid considerable emphasis on the presence of latent entrepreneurship in the communist economies and its potential to advance a virtuous process of wealth creation and improved living standards (Sachs1990), it is appropriate that the brief discussion of self-employment early in the chapter be developed in more detail, and this forms the focus of the sixth section of the chapter.This is particularly important as the relevant data are here at their most ambiguous, yet couldbe pivotal to the interpretation of the gendered impacts of reform. This section therefore explores more closely the definition of self-employment adopted by the OECD and its behaviour in the transition economies.