Childcare Provisions and Women's Participation in Off-Farm Employment: Evidence from Low-Income Rural Areas

By Wang, Heng; Dong, Xiao-Yuan | Journal of Research in Gender Studies, July 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Childcare Provisions and Women's Participation in Off-Farm Employment: Evidence from Low-Income Rural Areas


Wang, Heng, Dong, Xiao-Yuan, Journal of Research in Gender Studies


1. Introduction

China's rural economy has undergone radical change since the economic reforms that replaced collective farms with the household responsibility system in 1978. The decollectivization of agriculture was followed by the expansion of off-farm rural industrial employment in Township and Village enterprises in the mid-1980s. And in the mid-1990s, rural-urban migration became a major feature of the Chinese economy as tens of millions of rural workers went to cities in search of work. These changes have led massive shifts of labor out of agriculture into off-farm self-employment and wage earning activities, contributing to rapid income growth and dramatic declines in poverty. However, studies show that women and men did not have equal opportunities to participate in off-farm economic activities. Wang (1999) finds that men are more likely to move into non-farming activities and women remain in agriculture, despite low returns. Knight and Song (2003) show that women work more days on the farm and fewer days off-farm than men. Ellen Judd (2007) presents evidence that gender inequality in off-farm activities has led to feminization of agricultural labor, de Brauw et al (2008) show evidence that women in the middle-aged cohort (26 to 45 years) participate in agricultural production at higher rates than men, although the study concludes that there is no evidence that agriculture has become more feminized than it traditionally was.

The gendered patterns of rural labor transformation have important implications to relative welfare of men and women. Because the returns to agriculture are low, women's concentration in farm production may lead to feminization of rural poverty. Moreover, women's limited participation in wage earning activities reduces women's earnings relative to men's, consequently weakening their bargaining power and influence on intrahousehold allocation of resources (John Hoddinott and Lawrence Haddad 1995; Duncan Thomas 1990). For China, women's market wages enable women to decrease their own domestic labor (MacPhail and Dong 2007) and increase resources to children (Lina Song 2008). Thus, an increase in women's relative share of off-farm employment offers the potential for women to negotiate an improvement in their well-being as well as their children's.

Several reasons can be used to explain why women have a lower rate of participation in wage earning activities than men, among which women's role as primary caregivers for their children is an important one. Because jobs in wage-earning sectors are generally inflexible in time schedule and location and are more incompatible with work than household farm production, women's ability to participate in wage employment is conditional on the availability of substitute sources of care for children. However, few kindergartens are locating in rural areas, particularly low-income localities, and children are usually taken care of by their families before they go to preschool classes. When rural workers immigrate into cities in search of work, they do not have access to publicly subsidized child cares, which are available primarily to the staff of state-owned companies and government sectors. And service-for fee private childcares are too expensive for migrant women who are concentrated on low-skilled, low-paying jobs (Du and Dong, 2009). Therefore, women with young children have to stay on farm to accommodate competing work and care-giving demands or withdraw from the labor force to look after children.

A number of researchers in developed countries have estimated the earnings losses resulting from employment reductions and missed career advancements women endure due to their child bearing and rearing role, which are labeled as "mommy tax" in the literature (Crittenden 2001). Studies show that hourly pay of women with children is lower than that of women without children (Fuchs 1988). Waldforgel (1997) estimated that the pay gap between men and childless women is 16 percent, but the pay gap between men and women with children is 38 percent in the UK. …

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