"Working and Being Poor: Women on the Front Lines".
ANALYSIS BY OLGA TROSTIANSKY, FOUNDER OF THE LABORATOIRE DE L’ÉGALITÉ AND MEMBER OF THE GENDER BALANCE OBSERVATORY, REVIEWS OXFAM’S REPORT
While more and more women are entering the labour market, they are more exposed than men to precariousness. While the activity rate for men has remained almost stable, the activity rate for women has increased steadily from 58% in 1990 to 67.6% in 2015. The feminization of activity has brought to light a new scourge, that of the working poor, which, far from being reduced, is worsening. The recent Oxfam report with the evocative title « working and being poor, women in the front line », draws a clear conclusion of the problem. According to the NGO, the share of poor working women rose from 5.6% to 7.3% between 2006 and 2017.
The factors are multiple, originating in the cultural basis of the role assigned to women in society, including in relation to employment. Beyond the economic dimension alone, poverty is induced by social, psychological and political factors.
The figures speak for themselves: women are paid on average 27% less than men. They continue to take on family responsibilities and account for 70% of part-time work. They occupy 62% of lower-skilled jobs, although they are more academically qualified than men, and even when they are in skilled jobs, the majority of them move into lower-paying occupations. Thus, while women have entered the labour market, their mode of participation in it, the characteristics of the jobs they occupy, their over-representation in single-parent families and the fact that the mental burden continues to weigh on them make them more vulnerable to poverty and insecurity.
Faced with this alarming state of affairs, a systemic approach must be initiated to enable the millions of precarious women to gain access to economic and social security. To this end, the Laboratoire de l’Égalité (Equality Laboratory), which works for professional equality and one of whose main projects for 2018 and 2019 is the fight against women’s precariousness, is initiating a Pact on the subject through a global approach whose objective is to establish concrete proposals on three axes: part-time work, mostly undergone; single-parenthood to break the continuum between isolation and degraded employment conditions; and distance from employment.
The issue of the working poor does not, however, exhaust the subject of women’s precariousness. This phenomenon has repercussions later on women’s retirement. Every month, women receive almost 700 euros less than men, with an average monthly pension of 1,065 euros for women compared to 1,739 euros for men. The gaps have certainly narrowed, from 30% for the generations born in the 1950s to 60% for those born in the 1920s. Nevertheless, the reduction in the gaps is being hampered by the increase in part-time work and the reduction in survivors’ pensions as a result of the decline in marriages and the increase in divorces.
In this context, it is imperative that the current pension reform is able to do its job in reducing persistent inequalities. The Laboratoire de l’Égalité remains committed, as in 2010, to contribute to the consultations and bring to the debate concrete proposals developed with experts, which will be unveiled at a major event and relayed to institutions and the general public. If you would like to discover our proposals and take part in the debate, come and attend the event « Women and pensions: state of play, challenges and prospects » on January 15th at the Caisse des Dépôts in Paris.
Olga Trostiansky, Founder of the Laboratoire de l’Egalité, CESE Counselor and Steering Committee of the Gender Balance Observatory (Institut du Capitalisme Responsable)