Claudia Goldin and greedy jobs

Writing the PP as a non-expert on gender and employment I was very impressed by the work of the American economist Claudia Goldin. Her extensive empirical analysis of the reasons for pay gaps illuminated issues such as the role of occupational segregation – including the very striking fact that countries known for getting closest to gender equality – the Scandinavians – showed high levels of segregation, with women piling into human-oriented services such as nursing.

This surprised me, though it is of course partly due to the fact that in those egalitarian countries the financial penalty for nursing rather than banking is much lower. The choices seem sensible ones, if you’re after job satisfaction as much as money. Be that as it may, Goldin now has a new book out. I haven’t read it yet, but apparently one of the main themes is the ‘greedy job’: the roles and professions that demand long hours: finance and law being the obvious examples. In countries such as the US and the UK, where childcare is very expensive, this provides a strong push for one parent not to be so committed – and that’s usually the woman. Thus ‘couple equity’ is sacrificed for higher family income. Obviously this has long-term consequences for women’s careers, and for the GPG in higher age brackets – a major issue to which too little attention is given.

The notion of greedy jobs raises immediately the question of exactly why professions require such long hours. Is their greediness functional and necessary, or a matter of tradition and a way of sorting people out in ways which militate against equality? I have no comprehensive view on this, though I doubt if the 13th or 14th hour of a working day is usually very productive. What is bringing this more to the fore is the break-up of traditional working patterns, driven in part by Covid.

This applies not just to long days, but to working lives as a whole. The Financial Times recently published a long piece on how the pandemic has affected retirement patterns. It seems that many people aged 50 and over have changed jobs, or dropped out of the labour market altogether, as a result of their recent experiences. Some of this has very specific causes – for instance Nottinghamshire miners who retrained as lorry drivers after the closure of their mines and are now deciding to pack it in a bit early as working conditions deteriorate. Others are switching to different work in preference to sitting in front of a screen all day in an endless series of zoom meetings.

Currently the impact of the pandemic on gender equality at work is seriously bad with something like twice as many women as men losing their jobs. But, as I’ve noted before, the longer-term cracking of the full-time model might just be positive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *