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Margarita Estévez-Abe investigates gender inequality in Japan, Europe and North America

summary by Leeann Youn

Posted: April 1, 2009
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Dr. Margarita Estevez-Abe, Associate Professor of the Department of Political Science at the Maxwell School, Syracuse University, is a specialist of Japanese politics and economy, comparative social policy, varieties of capitalism and gender inequality. At the CEAS Japan Seminar and Comparative Politics Workshop on April 24th, Dr. Estevez-Abe presented an intriguing talk, "Explaining Gender Inequality in Japan, Europe and North America." She described the puzzling situation where currently Nordic countries have 'women friendly' social policies and social democracy but also the most gender-segregated labor market. In order to understand how women work, Dr. Estevez-Abe concentrates on four cross-national topics: variation of gender inequality, occupational segregation, working status, and women's contribution of household income.

By adopting institutional theory, Dr. Estevez-Abe argues that labor market types shape economic opportunities for women. According to Dr. Estevez-Abe, most research has praised countries with strong traditions of vocational training, employment protection, and collective wage bargaining for minimizing gender inequality. However, Dr. Estevez-Abe argues that these institutions have in fact produced highly gendered employment patterns in the labor market. In other words, the vocational training systems and strict employment protection exacerbates occupational segregation by sex regardless of whether they provide generous 'women friendly policies,' such as public childcare or/and maternity benefits. As long as employers have to provide vocational training systems and strict employment protections, employers who are sensitive to turnover costs are inclined to hire men instead of women. Thus, labor market types affect women's chances for employment. This shows that institutions affect individuals' work patterns.

According to Dr. Estevez-Abe this tendency is also found in Japan's labor market. Since the Japanese labor market is also one of rigid systems, private enterprises prefer men to women. This is why the percentage of women in professional jobs requiring a license (e.g., lawyer or doctor) and in the public sector has increased. Dr. Estevez-Abe also suggests that these institutional constraints on women might affect women's marriage behavior as well. Her research shows that women are delaying marriage due to the private sector's preference for single women workers.

Dr. Estevez-Abe's intriguing talk and active discussion with the students and faculty members during the QandA session provided valuable insights into social policy and gender inequality issues in labor markets.

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