Men’s careers are limited if they choose a working week of 4 times 9 hours, but women profit from this division. This is one of the conclusions from labour market research performed by economic geographer Inge Noback. The research also reveals that the number of hours worked per week is still falling for both sexes. Noback: ‘If the government is worried about ageing, it shouldn’t just increase the retirement age but put working more hours back on the agenda.’ Noback will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 27 October 2011.
For her research on the differences in career development between men and women, Noback investigated the administration files of a large Dutch company. By microscopically examining how the careers of men and women had developed, related to the number of hours they worked, she discovered that the sexes are judged with different measures: ‘Because the research concerned only a single company you can’t generalize, but you can see how the processes work. It turns out that four days of nine hours is not good for men. They have to be always available. If they are not there for one day a week, they are taken to task. Things are different for women, because people usually assume that they are part-timers. They were able to advance faster.’
The research on career differences is only one part of the labour market research. For example, Noback also examined the regional differences in labour participation. Women in an urban environment turned out to work more often and for longer than women in the country. Men in the cities turned out to work less. Another remarkable conclusion is that women are prevented from working not only through caring for children but also for the elderly in their environment.
Although a relatively high proportion of women in the Netherlands have a job, on average they work far fewer hours than women in most other European countries. Men, too, are working fewer and fewer hours, particularly after the birth of their first child, Noback discovered. That won’t be able to continue for long, she expects: ‘The government will have to arrange longer working weeks, because simply increasing the retirement age won’t solve the problem. That means that more childcare will be needed. Currently children have a major effect on a woman’s career, and in fact that should not be automatic. Of course there are women with young children who want to stay at home for a while. They should certainly do so, but it shouldn’t have to affect their entire career.’
There is a lot of aggregated data available about the labour market and about the labour participation of men and women. Statistics Netherlands, the Employee Insurance Agency and other institutions publish them as regularly as clockwork. It’s well known that many women in the Netherlands have a part-time job, but work fewer hours than women in many other countries, as is the trend that both men and women are working less and less. However, Noback was able to base her research on unique data: ‘I was allowed to nose around in the Statistics Netherlands microdata. That means anonymous data on ten million individual jobs, and very specific information about the dynamics in the number of hours worked, for example. Unlike the survey data, this is really new stuff. You’re given access from your laptop with a fingerprint, thanks to a program that they come and install at your home. That was really special.’
Noback made a selection from this Social Statistical Job Database of employees who kept the same job between 2003 and 2005, but whose number of hours worked could have changed. It turns out that women’s preferences change more often than men’s, certainly if they originally had a job for less than three days a week. Noback: ‘That shows that there’s still an enormous labour potential waiting to be tapped.’
Inge Noback (Groningen, 1977) studied at the Faculty of Spatial Sciences of the University of Groningen. She is currently a postdoc researcher at the department of Economic Geography at the same faculty. Her thesis is entitled ‘Regional labour market dynamics and the gender employment gap’ and was partly financed by NWO.
Inge Noback, tel. 050 363 7321 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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