'Women-friendly' state interventions and occupational gender segregation -paradise or paradox?

Project: Research council

Project Details


While policymakers in the UK and elsewhere have sought to increase women's employment rates by expanding childcare services and other work/family policies, research suggests these measures have the unintentional consequence of reinforcing the segregation of men and women into different 'types' of jobs and sectors (Mandel & Semyonov, 2006). Studies have shown that generous family policies lead employers to discriminate against women when it comes to hiring, training, and promotions, as employers assume that women are more likely to make use of statutory leaves and flexible working. Furthermore, state provision of health, education, and care draws women into stereotypically female service jobs in the public sector and away from (better-paid) jobs in the private sector. Accordingly, research suggests that the more 'women-friendly' a welfare state is, the harder it will be for women - especially if they are highly skilled - to break into male-dominated jobs and sectors, including the most lucrative managerial positions (Mandel, 2012).

Yet, more recent evidence indicates that women's disadvantaged access to better jobs is not inevitable under generous welfare policies. For instance, women's share of senior management positions in Sweden, where women-friendly policies are most developed, now stands at 36%; this compares to a figure of 28% in the UK, where gender employment segregation has historically been lower (Eurostat, 2018). Thus, the aim of this project is to provide a clearer and fuller understanding of how welfare states impact on gender employment segregation by using innovative methods and approaches that have not been used to examine this research puzzle before.

To this aim, the project is organised into three 'work packages' (WPs). WP1 examines how conditions at the country-level mediate the relationship between welfare states and gender segregation in employment across 21 advanced economies. This includes Central and Eastern European countries, which prior research has tended to overlook. The country-level conditions included are cultural norms, regulations regarding women's representation on corporate boards, and labour-market characteristics. Data will be compiled from the International Social Survey Programme, OECD, Eurostat, the Global Media Monitoring Project, the World Bank, and Deloitte's Women in the Boardroom project. WP2 then investigates how the impact of welfare-state policies on a woman's career progression varies according to her socioeconomic position and the specific economic and social context in which she lives, using regional and individual-level data from the European Social Survey. Subsequently, WP3 carries out systematic comparative case studies to explore in depth the underlying mechanisms that explain why certain welfare states and regions exhibit high levels of gender inequality but low levels of class inequality, while in other places, the opposite is true. Data are drawn from the same sources as for WP1 and WP2, as well as academic literature and other relevant sources (e.g. government websites).

The project is important because its findings will inform policymakers about how their policies affect different groups of women and how to overcome the 'inclusion-inequality' dilemma (Pettit & Hook, 2009), i.e. bring more women into the workforce by providing adequate family policies and services, but without channelling women into stereotypically feminine occupations and undermining their career progression. Tackling such segregation matters because it is a leading cause of the gender pay gap (Mandel & Semyonov, 2014) and underpins the undervaluation of women's work (Grimshaw & Rubery, 2007). At the same time, bringing more women into positions of power can have positive 'trickle-down' benefits for lower-skilled working women, as gender-balanced top-management teams are associated with female-friendly workplace characteristics and practices that can benefit all women (Kowalewska, 2017b)
Effective start/end date7/07/221/11/23


  • Economic and Social Research Council

RCUK Research Areas

  • Demography
  • Management and Business studies
  • Social policy
  • Sociology


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.