Examining the gendered impact of economic restructuring on regional labour markets.

Author:Bamberry, Larissa
  1. Introduction

    It has long been acknowledged that economic restructuring has different impacts on men and women, both in Australia and internationally (Bagguley et al. 1990; Broomhill and Sharp, 1999; Edwards and Magery, 1995; Massey, 1995; Rube ry,1988). The recent focus on the causes of the global financial crisis and its impact on national and supranational labour markets (Karamessini and Rubery, 2013) have reinvigorated the study of the gendered impact of economic restructuring. Australia is seen as a country that has weathered the economic storm created by the global financial crisis relatively well. However, in response to global pressures, Australia has been experiencing economic restructuring for more than twenty years (Giesecke, 2008; Productivity Commission, 2013). Given Australia's economic dependence on primary industries it is also subject to exogenous shocks due to extreme climate conditions such as drought and flooding and these have particular regional impacts across the country (Edwards et al. 2009). The reliance on primary industry also makes Australia susceptible to international drivers such as China's increasing demand for iron ore and declining global demand for coal (Courvisanos, Jain and Mardaneh, 2016; Henry, 2013). During much of the period from 1996 through to 2011, strong overall employment growth has been accompanied by a decline in manufacturing employment and a growth in employment in health care and social assistance (Austalian Bureau of Statistics, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011a). These broad national trends have not been experienced consistently across all regions, with some experiencing phases of economic decline, recession or restructuring. Employment growth has not been shared evenly between men and women, with implications for employment outcomes, gender inequality and gender segregation in regional labour markets.

    Much of the analysis of the gendered impact of economic restructuring has been at an aggregate state or national level (Cass, 1995; Preston and Jefferson, 2007) or even at an international level (Karamessini and Rubery, 2013). Similarly, research on inequality within labour markets has tended to focus on 'national rather than regional trends with little appreciation given to local geographies of participation and progress by women'(Hanson and Pratt 1988 cited in Jenkins, 2004:20). Strachan et al. (2002:92) argue that 'few studies in the labour economics and industrial relations research agenda have analysed the differences that apply to women workers outside of capita I cities'.

    It is also important to monitor how regional gender divisions of labour evolve overtime. Rubery and Rafferty emphasise that labour markets vary overtime as well as place:

    the gendered impact of a recession will not be the same across time and space as differences can be expected in women's relative position in the labour market or welfare system linked to varying degrees of attachment to employment and varying social norms and household arrangements (2013: 415). The particular contribution of this paper is to take labour market hypotheses that have traditionally been used to examine the impact of economic recession on gender equality at a national or supranational level and explore their usefulness for studying the impact of different phases of economic growth and decline on gender equality at a regional level. To achieve this, the paper draws upon Australian Bureau of Statistics data from the 1996, 2001,2006 and 2011 Censuses of Population and Housing. To explore gender equality in the Latrobe and Geelong regions of Victoria and the North Western region of Tasmania the paper focuses on the changing patterns of labour market participation, employment growth, industry gender segregation, skills and educational attainment, individual income and contribution to household income. The experiences of these regions are compared and placed within the broader national experience.

  2. The Regions

    The Latrobe and Geelong regions in south east and south west Victoria and the North Western region of Tasmania in Australia are in different phases of economic restructuring, each experiencing a distinctive pattern of employment growth or decline throughout the period.

    Greater Latrobe Valley

    The Greater Latrobe Valley has a primarily resource-based economy, with key employment industries including energy, mining and construction, agriculture and forestry and manufacturing (Fairbrother et al. 2012). The region experienced significant economic restructuring during the 1990s with the privatisation of the State Electricity Corporation, Victoria which saw the loss of more than 800 jobs in the electricity industry with a flow on of job losses amongst related mining, maintenance and manufacturing occupations (Snell et al. 2015). The long-lasting impact of the restructuring of this region has been well documented (Cameron and Gibson 2005; Rainnie et al. 2004; Wright et al. 2015) with Wright and colleagues demonstrating that the impact on social welfare was felt in the region well into the 2000s. Given the ongoing reliance of the region on coal fired electricity generation for employment, the region is especially exposed to potential changes resulting from climate change and government intervention to address climate change (Fairbrother et al. 2012).

    Regional Geelong

    The Geelong region's largest economic output is derived from manufacturing, particularly automotive manufacturing and related sectors. Historically manufacturing has been the largest sector of employment in the region (Fairbrother et al 2013). While the region has historically seen good levels of growth and regional development, concerns for the future of the region have been raised with the recent closure of car manufacturing plants.

    North West Tasmania

    North West Tasmania's economy is based on resource industries (agriculture, aquaculture, minerals and forestry), complemented by manufacturing and processing sectors with a range of tertiary (health and education), transport and speciality activities (such as creative industries). Secondary and service based industries account for a substantial part of the regional economy (Walker and Fairbrother, 2015). Barton and Fairbrother (2014) argue that the region is 'in a seemingly irreversible decline after having been the focus of inward investment and relative prosperity based on hydroelectricity and a skilled workforce, during the latter part of the 20th century'.

    Each region has witnessed shifts in the structure of employment, including levels of employment in male-and female-dominated industries. Regional variations in the gender division of labour have impacted on both men's and women's opportunities for employment and on overall levels of gender inequality.

  3. Previous studies of economic restructuring and inequality

    Rubery (1988), in examining the impact of economic recession on women's employment patterns, identified three basic hypotheses to predict and explain how economic recession influences women's employment and labour market inequality; the segmentation hypothesis, the buffer hypothesis and the substitution hypothesis.

    The segmentation hypothesis suggests that the gender segregation of industries and occupations within the labour market tends to protect women's employment during an economic downturn, maintaining women's employment levels, while men's employment declines as male-dominated industries and occupations are more adversely affected by recessionary pressures. This hypothesis is supported by the concept of the 'added worker effect' (Becker, 1981), which suggests that women's employment may increase during a recession as women seek employment or increased hours of work to make up for the loss or decline in men's contribution to household income. However Baden (1993) found that while women's concentration in public sector employment in developed economies provided initial protection from recession, subsequently their employment was exposed to reductions in public spending and employment. Such a pattern has been identified as a response to the GFC in the US and in many countries in Europe (Karamessini and Rubery, 2013).

    The outcome of the segmentation hypothesis may be an initial increase in equality within the labour market, not through an improvement in women's employment conditions, but through a decline in men's employment conditions, identified by Armstrong (1996) as a 'harmonising down' effect. Initially, women may take on the role of the primary income earner within the household. However, over the long-term, women's contribution to household income would be reduced relative to men's, and the effect would be an overall decline in household incomes.

    The buffer hypothesis suggests that women have tended to act as a reserve army of labour, drawn into the labour market during phases of high demand, often as part-time and casual workers, or in peripheral roles. As non-core workers, women can then be dismissed easily at the first sign of economic recession. This hypothesis is underpinned by the view that the labour market prioritises men's 'bread winner' labour in times of recession ahead of women's work, which is seen as secondary or supplementary to households. It also relies on a view of women as 'straddling the boundary between the formal and informal economy and able to with draw from the labour market during an economic downturn to focus on household responsibilities (Smith, 2009). The buffer hypothesis suggests that women's employment is likely to be impacted by the discouraged worker effect (Becker 1981) during a recession, with women withdrawing from the labour market and job search sooner than retrenched men.

    The buffer hypothesis further suggests that during a recession, gender inequality in the labour market increases, with women's participation rates and income falling, increasing the overall gender pay gap. Women's overall contribution to household income is...

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