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The Changing Gender Distribution of Paid and Unpaid Work in New Zealand - WP 05/07

2  Changes in individual and household employment

In the immediate post-WW2 period, most working-age men and women lived as married couples and raised children. In these couples, the main pattern of employment was the male working full time and the female at home looking after children. Women were also primarily responsible for most of the household production. This represented an extreme level of specialisation within the household.

Across industrialised countries, increases in divorce and non-marital childbearing, as well as shifts in the living arrangements of young adults and families, have increased rates of single parenthood and single adults living alone. There has also been a decline in the number of people living with their extended family. In parallel but, at times, connected with these changes in living arrangements, there has been a decline in the employment of prime-aged men, initially amongst older workers but in recent decades amongst low-skilled men. Over the same period, women’s employment rates have risen dramatically as a result of various factors including changes in gender norms; increases in both women’s level of education and in their real wage rates; decreased fertility; advances in household-production technology; the marketisation of unpaid work; and postponed childbearing (Figure 1). The changes in women’s education in New Zealand have been particularly dramatic in recent years. For example, in 2001 in the 25-29 age group there were over 24,000 women with a degree or higher educational qualification compared with just over 18,000 men.

Figure 1 – Employment rates for women and men aged 15 and over, 1956 to 2005
Figure 1 – Employment rates for women and men aged 15 and over, 1956 to 2005.

Source: Derived from Chapple (1994, 1999) and the Household Labour Force Survey.

In recent years, researchers have identified a gap between individual-based and family/household-based measures of joblessness in certain OECD countries, including New Zealand (Singley and Callister 2004). Figure 2 uses HLFS data to show trends in household employment from 1986 to 2004. It shows the effect of the major loss of employment in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, after this period the chart shows a growth in all-work households and a decline in no-work households.

Figure 2 – Proportion of working-aged households where all adults work or no adult was in paid work, 1986 to 2004

Figure 2 – Proportion of working-aged households where all adults work or no adult was in paid work, 1986 to 2004.
Source: Household Labour Force Survey.

Households where all members are outside the ages of 18-64 years have been removed from the analysis

A growth in the number of adults living alone or in sole-parent families means that employment in these households will always be either no-work or all-work, and will thus contribute to the polarisation of work across households. But also of importance is the concentration of employment within couples, with the emergence of no-work couples and couples where both partners are employed. This is the subject of the following section.

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