Women in the workforce earning wages or a salary are part of a modern phenomenon, one that developed at the same time as the growth of paid employment for men; yet women have been challenged by inequality in the workforce. Until modern times, legal and cultural practices, combined with the inertia of longstanding religious and educational conventions, restricted women's entry and participation in the workforce. Economic dependency upon men, and consequently the poor socio-economic status of women, have had the same impact, particularly as occupations have become professionalized over the 19th and 20th centuries.
Women's lack of access to higher education had effectively excluded them from the practice of well-paid and high status occupations. Entry of women into the higher professions like law and medicine was delayed in most countries due to women being denied entry to universities and qualification for degrees; for example, Cambridge University only fully validated degrees for women late in 1947, and even then only after much opposition and acrimonious debate. Women were largely limited to low-paid and poor status occupations for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, or earned less pay than men for doing the same work. However, through the 20th century, public perceptions of paid work shifted as the workforce increasingly moved to office jobs that do not require heavy labor, and women increasingly acquired the higher education that led to better-compensated, longer-term careers rather than lower-skilled, shorter-term jobs.
The increasing rates of women contributing in the work force has led to a more equal disbursement of hours worked across the regions of the world. However, in western European countries the nature of women's employment participation remains markedly different to that of men. For example, few women are in continuous full-time employment after the birth of a first child.
Restrictions on women's access to and participation in the workforce include the wage gap and the glass ceiling, inequities most identified with industrialized nations with nominal equal opportunity laws; legal and cultural restrictions on access to education and jobs, inequities most identified with developing nations; and unequal access to capital, variable but identified as a difficulty in both industrialized and developing nations. Women are prevented from achieving complete gender equality in the workplace because of the “ideal-worker norm,” which “defines the committed worker as someone who works full time and full force for forty years straight,” a situation designed for the male sex (Williams 100). Women, in contrast, are still expected to fulfill the caretaker role and take time off for domestic needs such as pregnancy and ill family members, preventing them from conforming to the “ideal-worker norm.” With the current norm in place, women are forced to juggle full-time jobs and family care at home.
Although access to paying occupations (the "workforce") has been and remains unequal in many occupations and places around the world, scholars sometimes distinguish between "work" and "paying work," including in their analysis a broader spectrum of labor such as uncompensated household work, childcare, eldercare, and family subsistence farming.
Read more about Women In The Workforce: Areas of Study, Paid Employment Globally, Laws Protecting Women's Rights As Workers, Women in Workforce Leadership, Barriers To Equal Participation, Gender Inequality By Social Class, See Also, External Links, Bibliography
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