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Gender Strategies of Labor Market Transitions as Factors of Wellbeing and Socio-Economic Security

Priority areas of development: sociology
Department: Institute for Social Development Studies
The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

Goal of research: analyses of gender differences in labor market transitions and behavior, characteristic to selected professional and age groups.

There search is focused on labor market transitions related to job/career change, motherhood, unemployment and retirement. It includes comparative analyses of motivations and strategies which are being chosen by men and women in order to improve their work/life chances in various situations.

Special attention is paid to labor transitions within certain professional and gender/age groups which are seen as target groups in setting social policy/employment policy agenda, formulation and analyses. In particular, the research looks at vulnerable groups including working/unemployed mothers, people employed by underfunded and mismanaged academic research institutions and working/unemployed people who have reached or over passed official retirement age.

Methodology: The working paper presents findings from longitudinal research including in-depth interviews and a survey (based on structured questionnaires) with the same respondents conducted within a period of 10 years with certain intervals. There search method is based on comparative case analyses; social structures formation and labor market mobility are studied with the help of biographical sociology methods (i.e. based on analyses of the respondents’ biographies). The interview data were subject to thematic analyses including quantification, which made it possible to suggest estimates of the extent to which certain patterns of behavior are spread.

Empirical base of research for the project has been a qualitative longitudinal research focused on vulnerable groups present in the labor market (college and university graduates, unemployed registered in the national employment service, people legally regarded as belonging to “low income” group). The research was conducted in four Russian cities: Moscow, Samara, Syktyvkar and Ulyanovsk in 1999-2010 and included five rounds of interviews and surveys. A purposive sample has been quoted by regions and the respondents’ sex. The panel of sociological observation consisted of 240 respondents, evenly distributed by sex and by target groups. The empirical data for the research has been comprised of 900 transcripts and of structured data in SPSS framework, representing developments in work biographies of the respondents. This kind of research design made it possible to follow up the respondents’ life trajectories with in a wide time frame, while the heterogeneity of the sample allowed for observations at various stages of the respondents’ lives.

Results of research: The analyses of the data revealed substantial gender differences in the strategies of labor market transitions. Variations of these strategies are determined by the value of career progression, remuneration levels, job security, its psychological and technical characteristics, including skills requirements and their correspondence to the workers’ professional qualifications. However, along with gender, age and education are very important as both factors of strategies formulation and resources of their implementation.

Major behavior patterns and typologies of strategies were analyzed for the selected target groups: for mothers in connection with giving birth to children and with subsequent stages of their growth; for academics – in the context of the organizational and economic reforms taking place in the Russian Academy of Science; for the elder generation workers – in connection with retirement.

Analyses of the impact of motherhood on labor market transitions and women’s career progression, reveals that it constitutes one of the most significant risk factors of women’s employment and career progression. At the same time the working mothers’ adaptive capacity is found to be rather high and in the long term can be seen as a positive employment factor. However, adaptation of this group is in many cases based on compromising of important aspects of their personal and work lives, including increased intensiveness of labor at home (sometimes – at the working place as well), decreased income during a substantial period of professional life, etc.

Analyses of the academics’ careers confirm that the government’s policy towards the development of the academic research sector is the key factor determining both their progressing and the future of the profession as a whole. The study also reveals significance of the factors related to gender social roles. These factors are seen by the respondents as important not only in the context of individual career progression, but also in the context of development of the professional group as a whole. The respondents recognize that one of the most serious obstacles for the progress of the national academic research sector, i.e. the failure to provide continuity in the development of scientific schools, - is to a large extent caused by the problem of the “missing middle”, meaning lack of team leaders who could direct the activities of research units within institutes, research centers, etc. Both male and female respondents see the job of such team leaders as a predominantly male role. Women, who are fulfilling major part of family responsibilities, are considered to be able to perform team leaders’ roles to quite a limited extent. Men, who are seen as major bread winners for their families, аre not attracted by academic careers because of persisting low salaries and of vanishing prestige of the profession. Both trends result in gender pattern of “division” of academic labor.

Analyses of the labor market transitions of the respondents who have reached or over passed the official retirement age reveals that this transition pushes for changes in life/work strategies, introduce in g new dimensions and adjusting the “gender standard” of behavior to age specifics. Most of the respondents tend to continue working after obtaining their status of retired persons (as well as payments of their pensions), which is not only due to economic reasons. The most important factors which determine variations of strategies concerning employment (or non-employment) after over passing retirement age are the respondents’ health and the need to support dependents. However, work after retirement age is also an important part of the strategy of resistance to social exclusion which comes with the age and in most cases is driven by a will to maintain self-confidence and independence. Impact of retirement on wellbeing of the respondents varies depending on their previous economic status: in groups with high incomes it provides for downward changes, groups with previously low incomes usually benefit from the transition. It also reproduces and, depending on gender and professional qualification, even widens the differences in employment patterns and careers.

The findings from the research can provide information support for labor and demographic aspects of policy formulation and policy-making in Russia. They can be also used for educational purposes, in particular, for development and updating of academic courses with in Master and PhD programs, they are of interest for the students specializing in gender and labor market research. 


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