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RosemaryCromptonand FionaHarris

Explainingwomen's employment patterns:

'orientationsto work' revisited*


Explanationsof the persistingdifferencesin the structureof men's and women's

employmenthave long been debated in the social sciences. Sociologicalexpla-
nationshavetended to stressthe continuingsignihcanceof structuralconstraints
on women's employmentopportunities,which persist despite the removalof
formal barriers.Neo-classicaleconomists,in contrast,have emphasizedthe sig-
nihcanceof individualchoice, an argumentwhichhas been recentlyendorsedby
Hakim who suggests that patterns of occupational segregation reflect the
outcome of the choices made by different 'types' of women. In this paper, a
previousdebate relatingto the explanatoryutilityof men's 'orientationsto work'
is used to arguethat employmentstructuresare the outcome of both choice and
constraint,and that this is the case for women, as well as men. The argumentis
illustratedwith evidence from cross-nationallycomparativebiographicalinter-
vlewscarrledout ln hve countrles.
. . . . ,% .

KEYWORDS: women;employment;occupationalsegregation;cross-national;


It has recently been claimed that women's relatively disadvantaged position

in the labour market is not a consequence of the institutional and/or struc-
tural disadvantages they suffered. Rather, women's position reflects the
outcome of their varying choices. Hakim (1991; 1995; 1996), argues that
there are two 'qualitatively different' types of working woman, the 'com-
mitted' and the 'uncommitted', the former giving priority to their employ-
ment careers, the latter to their domestic responsibilities. 'Committed'
women work full-time, 'uncommitted' women work part-time. The exist-
ence of these different orientations to employment, Hakim argues, explains
the apparently contradictory finding that part-time workers express them-
selves as highly 'satisfied' with their low-level, poorly paid, employment.
Furthermore, Hakim argues that 'feminists' have deliberately perpetrated

Brit.Jnl. of kSociologyVolume
no. 49 Issue no. 1 March 1998 ISSN 0007-1315 t) Lolldon School of Economics 1998

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Explaining womexn's emplayment patterns 119

'fashionablebut untrue' ideas concerning women's employment prefer-

ences (and relatedemploymentpatterns)for overtly'political'reasons,that
is, in order to '. . .effectivelydictate . . . a narrowrange of acceptablecon-
clusions . . . that women are victimswho have little or no responsibilityfor
their situation' (1995:448).
In this paper,we will not seek to deny thatwomen makechoices, and that
these choices are reflected in aggregatepatternsof employmentamongst
women. We will, however,dispute the assertionthat variationsin women's
'orientations towork' (or 'choice') is the majorindependentvariable
explaining women's employment patterns. Rather, we shall argue that
women'semploymentbehaviouris a reflectionof the wayin whichwomen
activelyconstructtheir work-lifebiographiesin terms of their historically
availableopportunitiesand constraints.This argumentwill be developed
using evidence from a cross-nationalstudywhich has gathered biographi-
cal interviewsfrom women in the same occupationsin five differentcoun-
tries. A previousvariantof the 'orientationsto work' debate, which was
developed in respect of men's employment,will be examined in order to
make some more general points relatingto the deploymentof individual-
ist, voluntarist explanations within sociology. First, however, we will
examine Hakim'sarguments.


Hakimarguesthat,when measuredby hours of work,ratherthan numbers

ofjobs, the extent of women's employmenthas not risen since the Second
World War. She argues that childcare problems are not a barrier to
women's employment, and that part-time workers are not exploited.
Rather, as 'uncommitted' workers, they have chosen the flexibility of
hours etc. associatedwith part-timework and express considerable satis-
faction with their employment arrangements.Finally,women are more
unstableemployeesthan men, a factwhich has been deliberatelyobscured
by the practitionersof the feministorthodoxy.The thrustof Hakim'sargu-
ment is that the nature and patternof women's labourforce participation
is largelya consequence of women's choices, and that the heterogeneity
of women's employment statuses reflects the heterogeneity of female
choice. 'Feminists',she argues, have claimed that women's apparentlack
of commitment,job stabilityand so on is a reflection of the jobs they have
been forced illtObecause of patriarchalpressures.These jobs tend to be
insecure, characterized by high rates of turnover, with few career
prospects, and so on, and these characteristicsare reflected in women's
employmentbehaviour.Farfrom it, Hakim argues,women's lack of com-
mitment,job instability,etc., accuratelyreflects the labour marketbehav-
iour of women whose employment is secondary to their domestic

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120 RosemaryCromptonand Fiona Harris

The deliberately provocative tenor of Hakim's recent commentaries has

generated a number of critical replies, with which we would broadly concur
(Ginn et al. 1996; Bruegel 1996). We would agree that she has set up straw
feminists in constructing her arguments, and that it would be difficult to
find academic 'feminists' (none are actually identified by Hakim) who have
claimed either that 'women' are an undifferentiated mass in respect of their
employment preferences, or that there are no differences at all between
men and women as employees. We would also agree that some of her
empirical procedures are highly questionable - for example, treating hours
worked as being more significant than numbers of jobs, and including a
population group that was not actually asked a question in calculating an
averaged 'response' to it.l Our purpose here, however, is not to further
extend these criticisms of the details of Hakim's arguments, but to chal-
lenge, sociologically, the grounds upon which she makes her case.
Hakim's argument moves directly from the macro to the micro level.
Women in part-time employment, we are told, have 'chosen' to give priority
to a marriage career, and no account is given of the mechanisms whereby
this 'choice' was arrived at.2 Whilst asserting that 'Some women choose to
be home-centred, with work a secondary activity',and 'Some women choose
to be career-centred, with domestic activities a secondary consideration'
(1996: 186), Hakim simultaneously holds that 'some women will switch
between groups over their lifetime', thus contriving to have the argument
all ways at once. Again, no suggestion is given as to why 'some women' might
choose to change categories rather than remain in one or the other.
The existence of these two types of women lends support to both rational
choice and human capital theories, argues Hakim. 'Uncommitted' women
make a rational decision to economize on the effort invested in employ-
ment, as this is not their main priority. In contrast, 'committed' women, in
line with the prescriptions of human capital theory, will choose to invest in
their employment careers. This fact of heterogeneous female preferences
provides a link between psychological theories of male dominance and the
concept of patriarchy (1996: 212) . Goldberg (1973; cited in Hakim 1996: 5)
argues that hormonal differences between men and women make men
more 'self-assertive, aggressive, dominant and competitive'. The fact that
women are fundamentally divided within themselves, Hakim argues, serves
to amplify the effect of these 'natural' masculine characteristics and men
are, as a consequence, disproportionately successful.
We have said that Hakim provides no reasons for the existence of these
two types of women, or why they might switch from one category to
another.3BTewould suggest that the reasons for these choices and changes
liein the exigencies of context and structural constraint which Hakim effec-
tively disregards in her embrace of voluntaristic, rational-choice expla-
nations of women's economic behaviour. To be sure, women can and do
make choices - although in aggregate, their relative lack of power and
resourcesrelative to men means that both today and in the past, they have
been less able to do so than the opposite sex. Women - and men - can

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Explaining women's employment patte7ns 121

choose but are also constrained, a fact which lies at the root of sociological
explanatioils of human behaviour.
However, Hakim (1991: 114) has argued that: '. . . theory and research
on women's employment seems particularly prone to an over-socialised
view of women, or with structural factors so weighted that choice flies out
of the window'. This suggestion of structural over-determinism is somewhat
paradoxical given the recent turn to 'discourse' in feminist debates. This
trend has led some theorists to suggest that recent feminist analyses run the
danger of disregarding structure altogether (Maynard 1995) . Our own posi-
tion is similar to that of Marshall (1994: 115), who has argued that although
'. . . the content of gender is infinitely variable and continually in flux, . . .
the salience of gender (i.e., 'male' and 'female') categories is persistent'.
Thus gendered structures and categories - in employment, in families, in
state institutions - play a major part in reproducing the gender order, but
these structures are nego-tiated and interpreted by changing and flexible
gendered subjects. Both the structures, and the manner in which they are
interpreted, may be investigated empirically.
One structure which has been argued to have been an important
mechanism through which women have been subordinated is that of
employment. Walby (1986) and Hartmann (1982) have argued thatwomen
have been deliberately denied access to jobs which would allow them to live
independently. In contrast, Hakim argues that
Occupational segregation has been reconstructed in the late twentieth
century to provide separate occupations and jobs for women following
the marriage career, which allows only non-committed contingent work
and non-career jobs which are always subordinate to non-market activi-
ties. (1995: 450)
However, this explanation does not address the problem of disparities in
power and resources between groups in the labour market. Rather, the
status quo is described as being a reflection of the requirements of a popu-
lation differentiated by 'choice' alone, rather than by any variations in their
initial social and material endowments (e.g. material and social capital con-
tributing to employment opportunities). As far as men and women are con-
cerned, it would be difficult to argue that this has been or is the case.
Hakim (1995: 450) also asserts that '. . . treating the workforce as a homo-
geneous group may work well for research on male employment'. This state-
ment leaves out of account a body of research and theory in industrial
sociology whose major conclusions were to demoxlstrate the heterogeneity of
the male workforce. This was the 'orientations to work' debate in the Indus-
trial Sociology of the 1960s and 70s. In the next section of this paper, there-
fore, we will first briefly review this debate, with the purpose of drawing out
elements relevant to Hakim's discussion of women's employment. We will
then present some findings from a cross-national study in order to illustrate
the interaction between choice and constraint in the shaping of women's
decisions relating to the employment/family interface.

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RosemaryCromptonand Fiona Harras

The conceptualization of 'orientations to work' in Industrial Sociology

arose out of an apparent empirical paradox. In the 1960s, assembly line
work (particularly in the car industry) was widely regarded as boring, stress-
ful and as giving rise to high levels of industrial conflict. However, a study
of car workers in Luton (undertaken as part of the 'Affluent Worker' study,
see Goldthorpe 1966; Goldthorpe et al. 1968) found that car assembly
workers expressed considerable satisfaction with their employment, and
manifested only low levels of industrial conflict. Goldthorpe et al. explained
these surprising results by emphasizing the significance of the worker's
'prior orientations' to employment. The assembly line workers, they
argued, had markedly 'instrumental' orientations to work. Putting an over-
whelming emphasis upon material returns (with which they were content),
their calculative involvement in employment left no room for individual
self-realization and their major satisfactions were to be found outside of,
rather than within, the workplace. Like Hakim's part-time workers (or
'grateful slaves' (1991)) the explanation of their apparent satisfaction with
'objectively' unsatisfactory employment was to be found in their orien-
tations to work rather than in their experience of work itself: '. . .the orien-
tation which workers have to their employment and the manner, thus, in
which they define their work situation can be regarded as mediatingbetween
features of the work situation objectively considered and the nature of
workers' response' (Goldthorpe et al. 1968: 182).
The Luton study was influential in developing the 'social action'
approach within industrial sociology, in which the actors' '... own defi-
nitions of the situations in which they are engaged are taken as an initial
basis for the explanation of their social behaviour and relationships'
(Goldthorpe et al. 1968: 184). This approach was developed in contrast to
what were perceived to be the universalist and over-determined assump-
tions of 1960s industrial sociology; in particular, the 'technological deter-
minism' and 'human relations' approaches. In respect of 'technological
determinism', authors such as Blauner (1964) had argued that worker satis-
faction and associated behaviour varied according to different levels of
technological development, and that assembly line technology, such as in
the car industry, was the most 'alienating' form of work.4 'Human relations'
theorists had argued that workers sought primarily social satisfactions in the
workplace, and that the key to workplace satisfaction, therefore, was the
development of cohesive work groups and supportive supervisor-worker
relationships (Roethlisberger and Dickson 1947). In contrast, Goldthorpe
et al., as we have seen, argued that to the extent that workers could choose
the nature of their employment, then workers with particular orientations
would tend to cluster in particular workplace situations, and that therefore
'orientations to work' should be treated as an '. . . important independent
variable relative to the in-plant situation' (1968: 183).

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patterns 123

These argumentswere developedin respectof the malelabourforce, but

the parallelswith Hakim'sreasoning as to the existence of (at least) two
typesof women worker,characterizedby different'orientationsto work',are
very apparent.Goldthorpeet al.'s work generated an extensive debate, as
well as furtherempiricalstudies,which are simplytoo numerousto review
and summarizeat any length here. The Luton studies, together with the
development of the 'action' approach, also made an important contri-
bution to the developmentof sociologicaltheory.5
A major factor giving rise to the 'instrumental'orientation to work,
accordingto Goldthorpeet al., wasstage in the familylife cycle. Men with
young families,and non-workingwives,were most likelyto give priorityto
extrinsicreturnsfrom employment.However,the 'orientations'debate did
not pursue this topic of the defactointertwiningof marketworkand non-
marketresponsibilitiesand their relationshipto the familylife cycle, but
rather, polarized into a dispute between protagonistsarguing about the
relative significance of workplace ('structural') and non-workplace
('action') factorsto explanationsof attitudesto and behaviourin work (see
in particularGoldthorpe(1972) and Daniel 1969;1971).6
The notion of 'orientations'washeld up to close scrutiny.It wasargued
that orientations were complex and multi-stranded,rather than single-
stranded.Manyworkerswere found to desire bothextrinsic and intrinsic
rewardsfrom employmentand thus no single 'orientation'could be identi-
fied (Hill 1976;Blackburnand Mann1979). Second, it wasemphasizedthat
individualorientationsto workwere variableand subjectto change, both
by context and over the life cycle. Daniel (1969), in particular,emphasized
the contextual significance of orientations: in a (wage) 'bargaining'
context, workersmanifestedhighly 'instrumental'orientations,whereasin
a 'work'(i.e., dayto day) context, workers'orientationswere more focused
upon 'intrinsic'factors (see also Wedderburnand Crompton 1976, Cot-
grove et al. 1971). Finally,it was argued more generally that studies of
worker'sattitudeshad demonstratedthat people have a tendencyto adapt
to what is realisticallyavailablefor them and adjustto the realitiesof their
employmentsituation(Blackburnand Mann 1979). This argumentmaybe
extended to cross-nationalcomparisons,whichhavesimilarlydemonstrated
the significance of particularnational contexts for worker attitudes and
behaviour(Ingham 1974;Gallie 1978).
Hakim'sarguments,as we have seen, focus on the significanceof 'prior
orientations'for women'semploymentpatterns,and maybe criticizedin a
similarfashion.Muchas male employeeswere found to desire both 'intrin-
sic' and 'extrinsic'rewardsfrom their work, so women may be shown to
desire both 'employment' and 'family' careers.7Women's (and men's)
'work commitment' will vary by life cycle stage, rather as men's 'orien-
tations'were shown,in the 1970s,to varydepending on workplacecontext.
And women's, as well as men's, employment-relatedattitudesand behav-
iour will varydepending on occupation-specificand national contexts. In

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124 RosemaryCromptonand Fiona Harris

the discussionwhich follows, we will illustratethese themes by drawing

upon cross-nationalresearchwhich will demonstratenot only the manner
in which women's work commitmentis constructedover the family/em-
ploymentlife cycle,but alsohowsignificantexternalchangeshavereshaped
orientationsand commitmentto fit changing circumstances.


The researchreportedin this paper was designed in order to explore the

complex linkagesbetweenthe changingsystemof gender relationsand the
structuringof women'semploymentthrollgha comparativeanalysiswhich
included five countries (Britain,Norway,France, Russiaand the Czech
Republic).8We have sought to identify and describe relevant structural
factorswhich,so to speak,offer a 'genderedtemplate'to actors.It has been
demonstratedthat at the macro level, national differences in respect of
irrlportantinstitutions- in particular,the developmentof the welfarestate,
family (reproductive)policies, and the approach to the liberal 'equality
agenda' instantiatedby 'firstwave'feminism- have had a significantand
enduring impact on attitudesto gender roles and women's employment
(Crompton and Harris 1997a). BTehave also demonstrated that these
national variationsin attitude are linked to behaviouraldifferences in
respect of the domestic divisionof labour (Cromptonand Harris1997b).
Through an analysis of two 'feminizing' occupations, medicine and
banking,we have also demonstratedthat the occupatiorlalstructurealso
plays arl importallt role irs shaping relativelymore, or less, stereotyped
gender identilies. As we shall see, woinen doctors, in contrastto bankers,
had tended to be more systetnaticin the constructionof their work-life
biographies,and this was reflected in their domestic lives (Cromptonand
At the same time, we have, throughour biographicalinterviews9(fifteen
with women in each occupation in each country), also focused upon the
actorsaccounts and experiences of gendered structures- particularlyin
regardto paid emplounent and familylife. Ourinterviewsdemonstratethat
the continuitiesrevealedin our 'structural'analysesare complementedby
extensivedifferenceat the level of the individual,indicatingthatwomen do,
indeed, 'workon' their livesand shape theirbiographiesin relationto their
perceivedpossibilities.These possibilitiesvaryrelationallyas well as cultul
ally and historically(e.g. between Eastand West;Scandinavianand liberal
democratic.See Cromptonl996; Cromptonand Harris1997a).
Table I demonstrates that there were important differences in the
employment/family biographies of the women in the two occupations
We may link these occupationaldifferencesto an ideal-typicalcontrast
between professional' and 'managerial'careertrajectories,and their inter-
action with the familylife cycle. It can be seen that doctorsare more likely

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Explaining women's employmentpatterns 125

TABLE I: Occupational in carearintentions,childrenand thedomestic

divisionof labour
Doctors Bankers

Career first/drifted 51% 78%
Shaped by aniicipated family responsibilities 49% 22%
N 75 77
None/one child 42% 65%
More than one child 58% 35%
N 76 78
Domesticdivision of labour:*
Tradiiional 75% 55%
Other 25% 45%
N 69 68
Respondent main responsibility 55% 36%
Other 45% 64%
N 56 53

Notes: ** significant @ 99%

* significant @ 95%
includes shared with partner, partner does most, moderate to extensive help from others

to makecareerchoices (i.e. of specialty)enablingthem to combineemploy-

ment and familylife (e.g. GeneralPractice,which offersregularhours. See
Cromptonand Le Feuvre1997). Professionally-trained women often adopt
'familyfriendly'strategieswhich enable them to continue in professional
practice(Cromptonand Sanderson1990). However,at the individuallevel,
these kinds of biographiesreproducea relativelyconventionalgender div-
ision of labour,which feeds through to the occupationallevel, as manifest
in gender segregationwithin the medical profession.In contrast,bankers
(managers)are more likely to have made their career decisions at a later
stage:A characteristicstoryis told by this Norwegianbanker
I wasthe youngestof three childrenand myparentsweremostconcerned
with my brother getting an education, that was (seen as) more natural
. . . I was young when I began at the bank. I would have done it differ-
ently now. I would never have begun at the bank before I was finished
with my education . . . it wasa safejob . . . at that time it wascommon to
marryearlyand startworkingearly (she had her children at age 21, 22)
. . . I wasprettyunconsciouswhen I chose the bank . . . (3/29) .
Women in bankingoften find it difficultto make 'familyfriendly'working
arrangements,and Table I shows that they have fewer children, and are
more likelyto havea less stereotypedgender divisionof labour.At the indi-
viduallevel therefore,theirbiographiesare more likelyto generatechange

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126 RosemaryCromptonand Fiona Harrzs

TABLE II: Occupationalvariations in the interfacebetweenworkand family life

Doctors Bankers

Domestic lifefirst 24 15
Satisficer 37 26
Maximizer 17 15
Careerist (by choice) 16 19
Careerist (by necessity) 15
Unclear/undecided 5 9
Number: 75 78

- although men continue to dominatewithin the organizationalstructure

of banking.
However,the biographiesalso revealed considerableheterogeneity,as
described in Table II which summarizesthe current work/life combi-
nations of the women interviewed.l°
In Hakim'sterms,all of the women were committedto an employment,
ratherthan a domestic or marriage,career.All had workedcontinuously,
with only short breaksfor childrearing.Nevertheless,despite the consider-
able sacrificesand investmentswhichthese women had made in developing
their employmentcareers,most were explicit that theywantedto combine
employmentwithfamilylife. The 'orientationsto work'debateemphasized
that men sought both 'intrinsic'and 'extrinsic'satisfactionsfrom employ-
ment, and in a parallelfashion,the majorityof the women interviewedindi-
cated thatthey,too, had multi-ratherthansingle-stranded orientations.The
concept of 'satisficing'has been developedby Chafetzand Hagan (1996) in
their analysisof the growingimpactof women'semploymenton familylife.
Increasingly,they argue, women will attempt to achieve success in both
employmentand familylife goalswithoutmaximizingeither.TableII shows
that'Satisficing'representsthe largestsinglecategoryof womeninterviewed.
However,other women,whilstrealizingboth goals,had definitelygivenpri-
orityto their domesticlives ('Domesticlifefirst')

I decided afterI wasmarriedand doing housejobs that I didn't want to

stay in the rat race that was hospital medicine . . .'cos my husbandwas
doing that . . . so I decided that as I wanted to have a familyI would
become a GP so that I could workpart-time(Britain:2/02).

Others, rather than 'satisficing',had refused to compromise and had

sought to maximizetheir goals in respectof both employmentcareersand
familylives ('Maximizer').They included a Norwegianbanker (3/33) who
scrupulouslyshared domesticlabourwith her husband (for example, they
had each takensix monthsmaternityleavefor each of theirthree children),
and had risen to a Directoralposition by her early thirties. 'Domestic',

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Explaining women's employmentpatterns 127

TABLE III: Occupationalchangesin work-lifebiographies(percentages)

Doctors Bankers

Family life course change 43 15

External ororganizational 4 35
Personal life (crisis) change 26 14
Self clevelopment change 3 17
Nochange 25 19
Number: 73 78

'Satisficer'and 'Maximizer'biographiesall reflected multi-strandedwork-

life objectives,in contrastto 'careerists'- that is, women who consciously
put theiremploymentcareersbefore theirdomesticlives,as in the traditional
'careerwoman' stereotype.Manyof these women did not have children,
although in some cases, children had been brought up by other relatives.
Other careerists (who have been coded separately), had adopted an
'employmentfirst'strategymore out of necessitythan choice - afterdivorce
or other personaland economic crises such as the collapse of state social-
ism in EasternEurope.As can be seen from TableII, all 'careeristsby neces-
sity' were bankers (it is simply not possible to decide that a career in
medicine is the answerto pressingfinancialdifficulties!).Even in similar
circumstances,therefore, it is evident that women make very different
choices in the way in which they approachtheir employmentand family
The women'sbiographies,therefore,demonstratethat theirorientations
to employmentand familylife were complex and variable.Some women
choose a career with the clear intention of combining employmentand
familylife, others do not. We have shownhow orientationscan change and
develop over time - as in the examples of the bankers who went into
employment with no clear intentions but nevertheless built successful
careers.TableIIIsummarizesthe 'switchingpoints'whichhad changed the
work-lifecareersof individualwomen. Doctors are far more likelyto have
alteredtheir work-lifebiographiesas a responseto changes over the family
life cycle- for example,takingup part-timeworkwhen childrenare young.
Bankers,however,are more likely to have changed in response to external
'shocks'- such as organizationalrestructuring,or economic crisis(personal
life criseshave been classifiedseparately).
In a similarvein, our interviewsdemonstratedthat the experience of work
itself had played an importantpart in stimulatingchanges in both paid
employment and the domestic division of labour. For example, a British
doctor, marriedand workingoverseas,had returnedto trainin a 'woman-
friendly'area but decided to enter a highly competitivespecialtybecause
she 'justgot interested'whilstworkingon a projectto earn extramoney.A
bankerhad spent three yearsspent at home with her children

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128 RosemaryCromptonand Fiona Harr7s
Myfocus changed completelythen to being a mum.
Probablymy mum's
earlyindoctrinationof me as a mothercamethroughin
thatI'd neverhad
any intentionsof returningfrom maternityleave
immediately.I'd always
got it set in my mind that I wanted to be at home
with my children . . .
[And planned to returnto workpart-time.However,
with bank reorgan-
ization,a newjob wasoffered.] . . . Do I takethe risk
offorfeitingthe extra
two yearshome with the family,(or) to takethis full
timejob whichwasa
verygood promotionopportunity?(she did) (Britain:
Not only do employmentorientationsand
commitments,but also orien-
tationsto the domesticdivisionof labour,change over the
life cycle. Many
womenhad renegotiatedthe domestic divisionof labour
as their careers
haddeveloped- or had changedtheirpartnersfor
somethingmore 'career-
friendly'.llIn the case of the bankersin particular,40 per
cent reported
problemsrelatingto the domesticdivisionof labourwhich
had resultedin
theend of a relationship.Often (but not always)there
had been a change
toa new and more 'domesticated'partneras a
. . . my firstmanagerialjob demandeda lot from
me so I startedputting
more into thejob . . . I got more confidence- I took that
home. I wasn't
the wife he married. . . It (domesticwork)wasall my
responsibility,I did
everything.InitiallyI didn'tmind much . . . but as I got more
more confidentI startedto questionwhywasall this my matureand
I alwayssaid 'when I get marriedagain I'm going responsibility ...
to do it differently'
(divorced;remarried,second marriageegalitarian,one
child) (Britain:

Changes in the domestic division of labour were

reflected in occu-
pationaldifferences.Women in banking (who were more
likely to have
experiencedstatus changes over the employment life cycle)
to have renegotiatedthe domesticdivisionof labour were more
(18 per cent of
bankers had moved from traditionalto egalitarian
relationshipswith the
same partner,as comparedto 9 per cent of doctors). Exogenous
-such as, most dramatically,the collapse of state changes
socialism in Eastern
Europe - maylead to the renegotiationof the domestic
as divisionof labour,
in this case of a Russianbank employeel2

Now my husbandhelps me more about the house. The

thing is that over
the lastfour yearsI am the only supporterto the
family.... when I began
workingat the bank I told him that (the) work was new
to me, and I
needed a lot of time.... in order to acquirethe necessary
skills.I also told him that since he did not have much professional
to do at the time he wouldhave to performmost of professional work
the familyduties.He
understoodit and he accepted it. Well, at firstwe had serious
aboutit, but now his attitudeto the problem is much conflicts
more quiet (4/28,
one child).

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Explaining women's employmentpatterns 129

We would suggest that this evidence of change in orientationsamongst

women, both as a consequence of employmentexperiencesas well as over
the employment/familylife cycle, raisesproblemsfor Hakim'sarguments.
If orientationsand attitudesto employmentand the domestic divisionof
labour change over time and by context, how can the women who hold
them be described as 'qualitativelydifferent' from each other? Can part-
timersusefullybe characterizedas 'uncommitted'if they regardtheirstatus
as a temporaryone? (the lattercircumstance,of course,wouldnot preclude
a female employee from expressingher 'satisfaction'with part-timework
during her tenure of it).
Although we have stressedthe fluidity of women's employmentorien-
tations,we do not wish to argue that women's attitudesand employment
experiencesare identicalto those of men, nor that women, as women, do
not sharemanycircumstancesin common. Our cross-nationaloccupational
comparisons demonstratedvery similar patterns of gender segregation
within these occupations,despite the extent of national variability.l3The
situationwithregardto medicine has been demonstratedbeyondempirical
dispute (Allen 1994). Some specialties,in particular,surgery,are knownas
male preserveswhich are distinctlyunfriendlyto women, and masculine
exclusionarypracticesare the majorreasonfor the verylowfemalepresence
in these specialtiesin all countries.For exalnple, in the Czech Republic,
where women are 51 per cent of doctorsbut only 14 per cent of surgeons,
one of our respondents,a surgeon,describedthe situationas follows
. . . keepingthese disciplines'male'is a kind of male tradition. . . I almost
intuitivelyunderstoodfrom the verybeginning of my activeinvolvement
in the medicalworld that I must not make any mistakebecause it would
be, for many people around, evidence that women cannot be good sur-
geons (1/06 divorced,one child).
The situationis broadlysimilarin banking,althoughthere are important
East-Westcontrasts.Whereasretail banking is feminizing in the West, in
the East, men are rapidlymoving into this previouslyfemale-dominated
sectoras employmentopportunitiesexpand. In broadoutline, the patterns
of occupationalsegregationin the financialsector in the Eastare the same
as in the West, in that men are over-representedin managerialpositions,
and women carryout low-levelclericalwork- which in the Eastis univer-
sallyseen as a woman'sjob.l4 Women in bankingin EasternEurope, even
when in managerialpositions, are conscious of the realitiesof masculine
exclusionarypracticesand occupationalsex segregation
In the Czech CommercialBank (i.e., pre-1989)all lower positionswere
occupied mostlyby women, but when a man came, howeverstupid, he
had his career carved out for him (1/21 divorced, one child, new
When I applied for a higher post at the bank . . . though I wasa strong
candidateI wasrejected. . . it wassaid that the job involveddealingwith

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130 RosemaryCromptonand Fiona Harris

the securityforces and therefore it would be better if it was done by a

man. I tried to argue with the head of the selection board but I didn't
get veryfar (CzechRepublic:1/28 divorced (x2), one child).
The situationwassimilarin Russia
. . . we are being discriminatedaccordingto sex, when we are admitted
to workand when we are being promotedand in other waystoo . . . Men
are in securities,the credit department,women are in the accountancy
department(4/24 divorced,one child).
In Britainand Norway,there have been considerable,and recent changes,
in gender structuringwithin the Finance sector. From being amongstthe
most discriminatoryof employers,retail banksare now to be found at the
forefrontof EqualOpportunitiespolicies (Crompton1989). Thus reports
of gender discriminationcame mainlyfrom older interviewees.However,
in France,gender discriminationwas often explicit. One woman applied
for a Branchmanagerpost (for the second time)
. . . the most misogynistin our head office wasthe boss,who told me that
he wouldneverhavea womanin a positionof power,he actuallysaidthat
to me. The otherssaid it wasn'ta questionof sex but the cost of training,
they were hypocrites. . . (5/28) .
Discouragedat being constantlyturned down, she eventuallydecided to
takeadvantageof her statutoryrightto work80 per cent time afterthe birth
of her second child in 1993.
Althoughthe circumstancesof women in differentcountriesare diverse,
womenin the same occupationssharein importantexperiencesrelatingto
masculineexclusionarypractices.Thus there are importantcross-national
continuitiesin intra-occupationalsegregation,as well as at the aggregate
level.This kind of evidence suggeststhat universalistic,monocausalexpla-
nationssuchas Hakim's,whichrestupon the assumptionthatthe genderdiv-
isionof labourin employmentas a wholecan be explainedas a consequence
of'qualitativelydifferent'typesof womenexercisingspecificchoices,are not
veryuseful on their own. Manywomen will 'choose' low level clericalwork
inbanking,for example,but as a wide range of empiricalworkhas demon-
strated,this does not fully explain the concentrationof women in lower
gradesin retailbanking.Gendersegregationoperateswithinparticularoccu-
seemto be considerablecross-nationalcontinuitybetween the same occu-
pationsin differentcountries(Cromptonand Le Feuvre1992;1996).
Hakim's argument specificallyallows for the impact of masculine ex-
clusionary practicesat the higher levelsof the occupationalstructure(1996:
182ff).She arguesthat Goldberg'stheoryof male dominancesuggeststhat
womenwill tend to lose out when they attemptto compete on equal terms
withmen. Some of our evidencemight be used to supportsuch arguments.
However, we havealso arguedthat,even amongstthishighlyselectedgroup

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Explaining women's employmentpatterns 131

of 'self-madewomen', workorientationsare complex and variable,and do

not correspondto a przo7z female 'types'.Manywomen'sworkorientations
are multi-stranded,rather than single-stranded,and we have also shown
how 'orientations'to both domesticand marketworkvaryover the domes-
tic life cycle,and can be transformedbymajorstructuraland organizational
shocksand barriers.However,women (andmen) are not structural'dopes',
and the biographicalinterviewsalso provideample evidence of conscious
domestic or marketworkchoices, made within particularoccupationalor
national constraints.15


Our aim in this paper has been to illustratethe complex structuringof the
gender divisionof labourin respectof both marketand domesticwork.Inter
alia, we have also sought to demonstrate that one-sidedlyvoluntaristic
explanations of women's (and men's) economic behaviour, in which
'orientationsto work' and correspondingchoice of economic activityare
regarded as the major explanatoryvariablesin respect of women's (and
men's) economic behaviour,are inadequateand potentiallymisleading.
We have seen that whilstwomen do indeed make choices, these choices
are not necessarily between the alternativesof home-centredness and
career-centredness.Some women want both - that is, their work orien-
tationsare not single-stranded- and they choose accordingly.We havealso
seen how contexts structurechoices - a fact which should make us waryof
assumptionsthat there exist identifiable'types'of women. Some women go
into employmentand familylife withoutthe consciousexercise of choice -
but this does not preclude their subsequentlybecoming highly committed
to an employmentcareer.As has been well-establishedempirically,direct
male exclusionarypractices have had a substantialimpact on women's
careersand occupationalchoices, and it would seem that there is a con-
siderableamount of cross-nationalcontinuityin these processes.This kind
of evidence demonstratesthat occupationalsegregationby sex cannot be
explained as being a consequence of women's choices alone.
We have sought to emphasizethat sociologicalexplanationsrelatingto
women's employmentpatternscannot rest upon a simplisticreduction to
the argumentthat they are due to the fact that there are different 'types'
of women. Merton (1957: 121) has argued that a sociological approach
seeksto '. . . abandon(s) the positionheld byvariousindividualistictheories
that differentratesof deviantbehaviourin diversegroupsand social strata
are the accidentalresult of varyingproportionsof pathologicalpersonali-
ties found in these groupsor strata'.16In a similarfashion,we would argue
that the concentration of women in particularoccupations and employ-
ment statusescannot be 'read off' from the assumptionthat these corre-
spond to different'types'of women. Preferencesmayshapechoices, but the
do not, contraryto Hakim'sassertions,determine them (1996:214).

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RssemaryCromptonand Fiona
132 Harris
The 'malebreadwinner'model
of the divisionof
undertook domestic or labour,in whichwomen
non-marketwork and men
(employment) (Davidoff 'went out' to work
for the structuringof and Hall 1987) has had important
women's employmentin consequences
Thismodel also provided
the initialframeworkformany Westerncountries.
institutions;including welfare the constitutionof major
systems,etc. It has also regimes, education systems,
social security
the'proper'kinds of shaped ideas of masculinityand femininity,
workfor men and and of
isionsof labour have women.
varied considerablyfromNevertheless,gender div-
Finland,for example, the country to country. In
never persistenceof smallfarming
withdrewfrom marketworkto meant that women
Different kindsof welfarestate anygreatextent
nature of women's developmenthavealsoaffected
employment- for example,in the level and
commitment to preservingthe Germanythere is a strong
and the tax system traditionalcaring functions of
discouragesfemale labourforce the family,
Andersen 1993:35. See also L,ewis participation(Esping-
highly 1992). In state socialist
traditionalgender roles EasternEurope,
ment for women - a fact persisted despite near-universal
which Watson(1993) attributes(in employ-
lackof standing in civil part) to men's
society under state
national level, socio-historical socialism.At the aggregate
reflected in systematicvariations institutional differences have been
attitudes,which are carried the level of 'traditionalism'in gender
between over into the domestic
men and women divisionof labour
dence (Crompton and Harris1997a).This
suggeststhat gender kind of evi-
shapedas much by context relations,and the choices
as by individual associated with them,
expectthese contextual preferences,and we should
modelis modified. variations to persisteven as the
male breadwinner
Thisheterogeneity of
assuming that a particularnationalpatterns should also make us wary of
as far as the gender compromiseindicatesa universal
beimplied divisionof labouris 'solu-
by Hakim's arguments concerned, as would seem to
of women. It is likely relating to
that some degree of fundamentallydifferent
culturaland psychological occupationalsegregation,
as the organization notions of masculinityand
of workand familylife, femininity
gendered constraints on labour force would persisteven if all
to assertthat patterns participation were removed.
the outcome of women's of occupationalsegregationin Britainrep-
the case. In choices neglects important
particular,we would point factorsrelevant
employment protectionand the recent to the weaknessof UK
(Beatson 1995). promotionof labour
predominate, 'Non-standard',poorly paidjobs, in market'flexi-
have increased as a which women
the weakestworkerswill consequence. In a competitivelabour
get the
lack of
regulation of the Britishlabour worstjobs. Hakimarguesthat the
experiment' in which gendermarketmeans that it representsa
As we have argued in preferences will find their true
field, in that there are this paper, this stance assumesa level
no differences in
material and power

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Explaining women's employmentpatterns 133

resourcesbetween men and women. We would venture to suggest other-

In conclusion, therefore,we would suggestthat the position assumedby
Hakimhas significant,and negative,implicationsfor the explanationand
understandingof inequalityin Britainas a whole. The inferior nature of
much part-time,non-standardemploymenthas been identified as a major
factor contributingto increasingpovertyand social polarizationin Britain
(RowntreeFoundation 1995). We should not, therefore, be content with
explanationsof this phenomenon which attributesits female component
largelyto 'choice', and fails to acknowledgeits more negativeaspects.

(Date accepted: October 1996) RosemaryCrompton

Fiona Hams
Departmentof Sociology
Universityof Leicester


* The authors wish to thank Gunn 4. The Luton study also included two
Birkelund, Kate Purcell, James Fulcher, other, technologically contrasting, work-
Irene Bruegel, Nicky Le Feuvre, and the place organizations: Laporte chemicals
two anonymous BJS referees, for their and Skefco ball bearings.
advice and helpful comments on earlier 5. The 'action' approach may be seen
draftsof this paper. as the precursor of the phenomenological
1. See Hakim 1991: 106, and Ginn et and ethnomethodological 'turn' in British
al. 1996: 168. sociology during the 1970s,a development
2. It may also be noted that Hakim's which was vehemently rejected by
characterizationof the two choices open to Goldthorpe. However, this research also
women fails to take account of the increas- demonstrated the manner in which atti-
ing numbers of women living in families tudes to employment were and are shaped
but without men - i.e., lone parents. by perceptions of the opportunities avail-
However, Hakim would seem to assume able. See in particularWillis 1977.
that all women who are not in work have 6. The original debate may be criti-
accessto a male supporter.For example, in cized for this failure to pursue the question
adjusting the data on levels of work com- of the structuring of the employ-
mitment in order to incorporate non- ment/family interface (Dex 1985). Our
working women (who were not actually discussion will incorporate this dimen-
asked the question), she states that: '. . . by sion.
definition non-workingwomen are choos- 7. Men, also, may have such a dual
ing not to work given even a moderate orientation, it is not intended to suggest
income supplied by their husband' (1996: that the possibilit,vis gender-specific.
105). However, the data in question gives 8. The cross-nationalproject, 'Gender
no evidence of marital or partnership Relations and Employment' is funded by
status. the ESRC (R000235617), the British
3. Hakim also identifies a third cat- Council, and the Universit,vof Bergen. In
egory, the 'drifters',who are neither one the cases of Norway, the Czech Republic
thing nor another, but their activities and Britainwe also have access to the core
'probablydefy explanation' (1996: 213). questions of the International Social

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134 RosemaryCromptonand Fiona Harris

Survey Programme (ISSP) Family and transformation and gendered restructur-

Gender Relations II module. Access to the ing, due to both changes in the industryas
data has been given by the Institute of well as the successful pursuit of an 'equal-
Gender Studies, Prague, Social and Com- ity agenda' strategyby the EOC (Cromp-
munity Planning Research, London, and ton and Sanderson 1994; Halford and
ISD, Norway. Savage 1995). The situation of women in
9. Interviewshave been carried out by banking Eastern Europe has many paral-
Elena Mezentseva,IrinaAristarkheva,Pr lels with the 'western model' of the 1960s
fessor Marie Cermakova, Dr Irena and 70s. See Crompton 1996.
Hradecka, Dr JaroslavaStastna, Dr Gunn 15. As our study has gathered occu-
Birkelund, Merete Helle, Rosemary pational data only on the highly qualified,
Crompton and Fiona Harris. A common we are not in a position to present any new
recording document has been used for evidence relating to women in lower level
part-transcriptionsof interviews.All of the jobs (Hakim's 'grateful slaves'). A recent
women interviewed were in employment, study of homeworking, however, suggests
and aged between thirtyand fifty.All of the that for significant subgroups of women,
doctors were fully qualified (i.e., were their 'choices' are, in fact, massivelycon-
beyond the UK House Officer level or strained by their economic circumstances
equivalent and were entitled to practice (Phizacklea and Wolkowitz 1995). Their
independently as doctors), and all of the studyof homeworkingin Coventryshowed
bankerswere in managerialpositions. that the homeworkinglabourforce wasdif-
10. These categories were developed ferentiated along racial lines which
following an exercise in which biographi- reflectedthe divisionsin non-homeworking
cal summarieshad been made of all of the employment.All of the clericaljobs in the
homeworking sample were held by white
. .

11. Researchon changesin the domestic women, ethnic minoritywomen were con-
division of labour following women's entry centrated in manual homeworking,with a
into the labour force has tended to be heavy representationin clothing assembly,
rather pessimisticas to the possibilitiesof all Asianwomen. Nearly60 per cent of the
change - e.g. Hochshild (1990) - although Asianwomen worked45 hours or more and
Gershuny et al. (1994) do suggest that a one third 60 hours or more (p. 57). These
process of 'lagged adaptation' is in train. very long hours reflect economic need - a
However, a feature of these researches is high proportion of households were on
that they have focused upon survivingtw income support.Only 10 per cent of Asian
couple households. Our evidence suggests women said that they preferred to work at
that replacingor removinga partnermight home - they did the workbecauseit wasthe
also be a common response amongst econ- only workthat they could get. In the case of
omicallyindependent women. this section of the 'uncommitted' female
12. In any case, empiricalresearch (Pahl labourforce, therefore,it wouldbe difficult
1984) has shown that the domestic division to argue that their employment patterns
of labour changes considerably over the had been freely'chosen'. Itwould also seem
domestic life cycle, as might be expected. to be the case that the extent of homework-
13. In Britain,women are 54 per cent of ing amongst ethnic minority women has
employees in 'financial intermediation' been under-estimated in recent surveys,
(1995), and 29 per cent of doctors (1994). and that it is on the increase. See Felstead
In the Czech Republic, women are 70 per andJewson 1996.
cent of employees in 'financial intermedi- 16. As in, for example, Lombroso's
ation' (1994) and 51 per cent of doctors explanation of crime via the identification
(1994). In Norway,women are 59 per cent of criminal 'types'.
of bank employees (1991), and 27 per cent
of doctors ( 1994). In Russia,women are 76
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