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True lies about women's work

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In a new cross-national comparative review of all the key issues in women's work, LSE sociologist Dr Catherine Hakim finds that the latest research results overturn many received ideas and entrenched beliefs. Among the conclusions she draws:

  • family-friendly policies (as illustrated most generously by Sweden) do not reduce the pay gap, and they do not solve mothers' work-family conflicts. There is a pay threshold in Nordic countries below which are 80 per cent of all women, and above which are 80 per cent of all men.
  • the glass ceiling problem is larger in family-friendly Sweden than in hire-and-fire-at-will USA, and has grown as family-friendly policies have expanded. In Sweden, but not the USA, women are less likely to be promoted in the highest echelons of the workforce.
  • men and women do the same number of hours of work, once paid and unpaid work are added together/totalled (unpaid work includes housework, childcare, and voluntary work)
  • men do as much voluntary work (unpaid work for the community, neighbours, public bodies) as do women
  • the pay gap between spouses is due partly to women choosing high-earning husbands
  • maternity leave rights have made little or no difference to mothers' decisions to return to work after childbirth
  • the sex segregation of occupations is greater in Scandinavia than in the USA and western Europe
  • there is little evidence that caring occupations are devalued because women do them
  • modern society now offers women more lifestyle choices than men: careerist, home-centred, or a flexible combination of paid work and family work (most women)
  • lifestyle preferences are replacing sex and gender as the main determinants of social roles.

These are some of the conclusions drawn in a book out this week called Key Issues in Women's Work: female diversity and the polarisation of women's employment, published by Glasshouse Press, London.

Dr Hakim, senior research fellow in the Department of Sociology at LSE, specialises in women's employment, women's issues and economic sociology. She said: 'Many of today's 'facts' about women's work are true lies: technically true, but also false, in that they present a very partial picture. The full picture tells a quite different story, which might surprise many people.'

For more information on Key Issues in Women's Work: female diversity and the polarisation of women's employment, click here|



  • Catherine Hakim, at the LSE on 020 7955 6655 (direct line and voicemail) or by email: c.hakim@lse.ac.uk 
  • Helen Guthrie at Glasshouse Press on 020 7278 8000
  • Judith Higgin, LSE Press Office, on 020 7955 7582.

Notes for Editors:

Key Issues in Women's Work: female diversity and the polarisation of women's employment is an expanded second edition of a book first published in 1996, which has now become a classic text. The new edition presents comparisons across Europe and the USA, instead of the earlier focus on Britain.

Press cuttings

Daily Telegraph (24 September 04)
Mothers want help - not Hewitt's hectoring
Reference to research by Dr Catherine Hakim, LSE, on women and family choices. 

Guardian (22 September 04)
For decades we've been told Sweden is a great place to be a working parent. But we've been duped
Adopting Scandinavian-style family policies may not be such a good idea, LSE academic Catherine Hakim tells Joanna Moorhead. 

22 September 2004