Academic journal article German Policy Studies

Incoherent Strategies - Fragmented Outcomes: Raising Women's Employment Rate in Germany

Academic journal article German Policy Studies

Incoherent Strategies - Fragmented Outcomes: Raising Women's Employment Rate in Germany

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

Most European citizens who provide care work in private households are women, and hence women's labour supply is necessarily constrained. Consequently, policies focusing on the transition between housework or care and paid employment are inextricably connected with equal employment policies though not identical as they obey different priorities. In the mid-nineties, women's employment had become a key issue to the enhancement of the effectiveness and economic productivity of European welfare states (Esping-Andersen 1999; Esping-Andersen, Gallie et al. 2001; Esping-Andersen 2002), and the European Employment Strategy (EES) institutionalised a political crossroad for equal employment policies (1) in Europe. However, since then, political support for equal opportunity policies at the EU level has evidently decreased. European social and employment policies have by and by been re-formulated in terms of 'social investment' which underlines the need to develop or maintain human capital rather than enhancing equality and justice (Jenson 2008). This underlying new logic is translated to employment policies in terms of 'activation' policies whose most relevant objective is to increase labour market participation. In principle, the political efforts have shifted from the enhancement of gender equality in employment to the increase of employment levels of women. (2) But to what extent are these two objectives reconcilable in practice?

The EES represents for the EU member states a dominating normative and political reference for domestic employment policy making. Of course, due to the lack of 'hard' instruments in the field of employment, the 'activation paradigm' has been transferred in fairly different ways to the national levels (Heidenreich/Bischoff 2008). Nevertheless, conceptual problems are likely to arise in the implementation of these two objectives on national level in a more or less pronounced form. Germany appears to be a particularly interesting example as the German gender regime on the one hand rather hampers the development of women's paid employment and gender equality. On the other hand, EU policies are considered as a crucial impetus for the development of equal employment policies (MacRae 2006). So, what implications does the EU employment strategy have when implemented in a conservative gender and employment regime like Germany? The hypothesis of this article is that the German labour market reforms introduced since Lisbon rather contribute to a further 'fragmentation' of the German gender regime than to a gradual transition towards a new clear-cut, more equality oriented gender regime. While doing little to change the basic principles and patterns of the implicit gender bias of the German employment regime, the 'path' of promoting traditionally female employment patterns and tolerating existing labour market segmentation has been largely continued. Overall, the underlying norms and incentives within the German gender regime are not fully coherent and sometimes even incompatible. The following in-depth analysis of German labour market policies will demonstrate in what terms the most recent employment policy reforms include contradictory and ambiguous incentives regarding the access and quality of women's employment and reproduce and enhance inferior patterns of labour market participation. A full recognition of non-standard employment trajectories and a compensation for career breaks, in particular due to care responsibilities within the family, still stand out to be implemented.

In the following section we outline the elements of the EU Employment Strategy and argue that the EU policy regime is itself inconsistent and incoherent, especially since the emergence of the activation paradigm. The third section is dedicated to the investigation of gendered patterns in the three main domains of labour market policy, i.e. the regulation of the employment contract, the income maintenance schemes, and active labour promotion measures, including their effectiveness regarding labour market transitions. …

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