Who is flexibel in the labour market?
Work Research Unit Statistics Finland Helsinki, Finland
Who is flexible in the labour market?
The general assumption is that during the economic recessions women are the ones in the labour market who are flexible by moving outside the labour markets, becoming unemployed or by cutting down hours worked. But is this still true? Finland offers an interesting case with respect to women's labour market flexibility. The country has a long tradition of female participation in paid work and mostly women work on a full time basis. Besides this long tradition, the trend during the last decades has been for women to tend to stay longer at home after having children.
Finland experienced a harsh economic recession in the beginning of the 1990's. A good indicator for describing the hardness of the recession is the unemployment rate, which increased from around three percent in 1990 to 18 percent in 1993. By using labour market statistics I have examined what happened to female employment during the recession years of the 1990's. On the basis of my findings I argue that labour market flexibility was not so much gender-dependent as it was age-dependent. The employment rates of both men and women decreased, but men´s more than women´s. Thus women´s and men´s employment converged during the recession years. At the same time the employment of the youngest and the oldest age groups decreased significantly.
These phenomena are partly explained by the segregation of the labour markets, as the recession hit some branches harder than others, but they cannot be fully understood without taking into account the role of welfare institutions and the family and the pension and education policies followed. The concepts of gender contract and generational contract are used in order to explain why it was not women as a group, but rather the aged and the young, who acted as the flexible labour reservations in Finland during the recession in the 1990´s. This looking back approach gives a view on how welfare institutions affect female employment during the economic recession.