Transition and Beyond: Women on the labour market in the context of changing social norms
As countries brace themselves for a severe economic slowdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, earlier crises, such as that which followed the political transformation of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, may serve as important points of reference. While of course different in many ways, the changes that accompanied the transition affected society as a whole, but also had heterogenous effects across different groups. One particular dimension – also discussed in relation to the current COVID-19 crises – is that of relative costs and benefits for men and women respectively. In this brief, we re-examine one specific element of this, namely the developments of gender gaps in the labour market and social norms related to labour market activity.
The starting point is the fact that, at least nominally, women had a relatively strong position before the onset of transition, especially conditioning on the level of economic development of transition countries (see e.g. Campa et al. 2018). This background gives rise to several possible mechanisms and potential developments in the transition period and beyond. On the one hand, the legacy of relative gender equality creates conditions for path-dependency toward further gender equality, and the high levels of education should favour women in more competitive labour markets. On the other hand, the “centrally imposed” gender equality under state-socialism was not accompanied by actual changes of patriarchal values with respect to obligations for the household and children, and women remained responsible for these. The end of central planning could thus mean a setback for most common gender equality indicators, especially in countries with traditional divisions of family roles. In this brief, we give a quick overview of what has happened in some of these dimensions over time and across countries, starting in the years before transition.
The brief gives a short background for the specific country reviews that follow this introduction. It seems clear that the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath may also differently affect the lives of women and men. The experience of the post-communist transition of the 1990s shows that adopted policies may prevent gender gaps in various dimensions from growing as a consequence.
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