Austerity and Gender Equality in Two Flexible Labour Markets: The Cases of Spain and the UK

Friday, 3 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
OLD.2.22 (Old Building)
Jill Rubery, The University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
Marti Lopez Andreu, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
The paper analyses the gender impact of the financial crisis and austerity turn (Karamessini and Rubery 2014) in two European countries, Spain and the UK, both at the forefront of policies to reduce public expenditure and flexibilise labour markets but from different starting points. The paper draws on quantitative analysis (using EUSILC longitudinal data), qualitative case data (interviews with 15 women in Spain and UK) and analysis of policy change to assess the impact of recession/austerity on women’s employment trajectories and prospects. This mixed method research is necessary to assess the likely long-term implications for gender equality which include both the labour market impact and the impact on the ‘reproductive bargain’ (that is the support provided by the state and the family for women’s reproductive work). The SILC data reveals the changes in labour market trajectories and the policy analysis identifies the major shifts in social and employment policies, while the interviews provide insights into how individual women are being affected by and making sense of reduced support from the labour market and public services.

In spite of differences in institutional settings and employment models, before the crisis both Spain and the UK were moving tentatively towards some form of new reproductive bargain based on more active state support. Moreover, although in both countries the private sector labour market was characterised by flexible and insecure employment, women also had access to higher quality employment in the public sector (especially in the UK). Post the austerity turn the prospects are much bleaker: moves towards a new reproductive bargain have been halted or reversed; employment flexibility is intensifying affecting men but particularly women; public sector jobs are being destroyed or frozen affecting a high share of educated women in the labour market in both countries; and families are becoming more reliant on women’s labour, resulting in a huge added worker effect among the lower educated women in Spain in particular.

Thus, although men faced the strongest falls in jobs and the highest increases in unemployment in both countries, the evaluation of the medium and longer term impact on gender equality requires a broader perspective. Both countries seem currently set on a path of more employment for women but with more insecurity, underemployment, low pay and a lower social wage, including lack of access to care services. Without a new reproductive bargain in which the state plays an active part in reducing the gendered burden of domestic work, in regulating employment to enable women to have regular and secure income and employment and in implementing policies to conciliate work and family life, the consequences are likely to be a reinforcement of gender inequalities and strengthening of socioeconomic inequalities among women.


Karamessini, M. and Rubery, J. ed. (2014) Women and Austerity. Routledge IAFFE Advances in Feminist Economics. Abingdon