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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The challenge of family life for Russia's working mothers


MOSCOW — As with other prevalent trends in most European countries, in Russia an ever- increasing share of mothers prefer to combine household activities with work outside their household.

Therefore, sound, gender-sensitive employment policies may contribute to the cause of diminishing vulnerability of families with children and of childbirth stimulation more effectively than any system of direct material (financial) assistance.

I will discus here the issue of the work-family balance using data obtained from a sociological survey recently conducted that involved 1,200 Moscow families with children. About 60 percent of respondents were mothers of potentially vulnerable families (with many children, single-parent, with disabled children, etc.) — a factor that makes this analysis especially topical.

In the sphere of employment, one can observe formal gender equality. The share of working women in the overall female population roughly corresponds to the same share in the male population, though among working women mothers with children are prevalent.

In Moscow, 91 percent of family fathers have jobs outside their households while the corresponding share for mothers is 66 percent.

We can say that heavy family burdens — while "pushing" fathers out of homes, such as giving them impetus to go and work — routinely "build barriers" on the path of mothers who would like to find a job.

All in all, gender differences in employment opportunities and structure are considerable. Female employment in Russia is concentrated predominantly in the spheres of professional occupations financed by the state, such as education, health care and other social services (over one-third of all respondents).

This is a form of the so-called horizontal or structural segregation, while "vertical" or hierarchical segregation shows itself in higher professional status and commanding positions of men in the economy (and in the society in general).

The gender-based difference in earnings in Russia's economy is estimated at 36 percent (national average). According to the above survey, this difference is even more striking (about 40 percent).

Russian female city dwellers have rather strong motivations to work. Among women younger than 50 years of age, 80 percent expressed their wish to have a job, while only 66 percent actually had one. Earning money and increasing family income are the strongest motivations for working mothers.

The average share of the Russian family budget that women contribute amounts to 42 percent; for incomplete families (fatherless), it's 72 percent. The share contributed by career-oriented women remains fairly constant irrespective of income levels.

At the same time, single mothers turned out to be among the most career-motivated — probably, because personal success enhances their chances for a decent future (including an eventual marriage).

Slightly over one-fourth of nonworking mothers categorically expressed their wish "to stay at home." Among this group, mothers of the socially-vulnerable type — with multiple babies, disabled or handicapped children, or themselves disabled or seriously ill — were prevalent.

In Russia, the prevalent, typical form of employment for women is traditional full-time job on a permanent basis. It is believed that such an employment model guarantees higher job security and social protection but secures lower income in comparison with other, more flexible (and risky) patterns of employment in the private sector. About 83 percent of poll respondents had a full-time job.

As part of the social protection system, the state offers families with children social packages that include tax and other benefits aimed at bringing down household expenditures connected with children's education and at keeping the family income above the subsistence level.

Aside from mandatory general benefits, many employers offer working mothers some additional allowances and privileges provided out of the firm's reserve funds.

In corporate "social packages," there are special benefits provided to mothers with children — from New Year's gift and holiday entertainment tickets for children to additional, and at times expensive, medical insurance benefits for family members.

However, it has to be noted that businesses as a rule are not "overtly generous" toward working mothers. Even mandatory state-provided social benefits are not always secured in full.

Nowadays, the adaptation process of the old "Soviet" social model to the new "market" conditions is nearing its logical end. The universal, state-provided benefits including those for working women, have been giving way to individual privileges and bonuses granted selectively to the workers chosen by the corporate administration. Those new benefits do not represent "rights" to which workers are entitled by law. They are personalized and, more often than not, assume direct monetary form.

Additionally, outside observers usually do not realize that in modern Russia wages and salaries, bonuses and other monetary privileges, at least partly, quite often take quasi-legal form of the so-called black cash, — such as money payments that are made outside official records.

Many monetary transactions between employers and employees never take documentary form, which facilitates tax evasion for both companies and employees.

Accordingly, in many cases specific problems encountered by working mothers are also treated on the basis of informal arrangements. A "good boss" who is willing to be flexible is often of greater importance than a nominal salary level or other fixed elements of the "social package."

It is on such an "informal" basis that many working women (up to 60 percent according to the poll) happen to get their vacations in the desired season that is convenient for their particular family.

Existence of informal privileges and benefits may provoke dislike and resentment in some colleagues. On the other hand, "good" colleagues may render assistance in many crucial situations.

Over 40 percent of working mothers noted among the more important job characteristics they favor are moral working conditions and the possibility to stay at home when sick without a loss of salary.

The corollary is that the work-family balance is becoming a more important factor than the level of income.

While some women pay attention to this balance only occasionally, in extreme situations, many others (predominantly from child-centered families) build all their life around finding and keeping a "convenient" job, striving to combine career with "normal" and happy family life.

In the situation of a prolonged global crisis, the position of women in Russia's economy becomes shakier. Structural modernization, streamlining of organizational structures are in some cases accompanied by the outright dismissal of women and worsening of their job situation.

In these precarious circumstances, it is the responsibility of the state to enforce the laws and compel employers to guarantee working mothers just and fair "labor contracts," and to consider the social needs and wants of the Russian family.

Andrey Borodaevskiy (annabo36@mail.ru), an expert on world economy and international economic relations, was a professor at Seinan Gakuin University, Fukuoka, from 1994 to 2007.


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