Leading Article: Women are making men redundant

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The Independent Online
ONE measure of the decline of manufacturing industry is the rise in the number of women in work. Figures published today by Incomes Data Services show that in many regions of Britain more women have jobs than men. This does not mean that women work more paid hours than men: the comparison is usually between women in part-time jobs and men in full-time employment. None the less, these figures expose a social change that is part of a process moving inexorably through the industrialised world.

Manufacturing industry everywhere is cutting jobs, most of them held by men. And service industries everywhere are employing more people, most of them women. In 1979, compared to today, nearly 2.5 million more men and 500,000 fewer women were at work in Britain. The unemployment rate among women currently seeking work is only about one-third that among men.

The shift towards part-time employment is not a solely British phenomenon. Women's penetration of the workplace has gone furthest in Scandinavia, where nearly half of all the paid hours are worked by women. There is Eno doubt that across the whole industrialised world more women wTHER write errorill eventually be working for wages outside the home.

Women have several qualities that make them attractive to employers. Their comparatively cheap labour, though no doubt important, is only one aspect. The average wage for women is still a long way below that of men; and almost everywhere part-time employees are cheaper to employ in terms of insurance and benefits, even when full-timers receive the same notional rates.

The great attraction of employing women, though, is their flexibility. Service industries have to be available when their customers want them. Almost by definition, their workers have to function in most people's free time; and women are prepared to work when the work needs to be done.

It would be quite wrong to represent this flexibility as a willingness to be exploited. For many mothers, work outside the home is worth doing for its own sake as well as for the money it brings in. Many women are gaining from their supposed exploitation. One of the ironies of the Sunday trading debate is that many of the workers allegedly forced to work at weekends are women for whom such work is preferable, not only for the higher pay it usually brings but also because their partners are available to look after the children.

This suggests that the switch to part- time working in service industries has one extremely worrying consequence: it makes the unskilled working-class male even less necessary to the outside world, and this is likely to have profound and damaging social effects. Young men who have no realistic hope of honest work will be of no economic consequence to the women in their lives. They are unlikely to form stable relationships, and are going to become an increasingly dangerous and disruptive factor in the life of our cities. The underlying message of today's report is the need to give such youths a stake in the productive society around them.