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News - The Feminization Of The Barbados Labour Market
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Labour News.

The Feminization Of The Barbados Labour Market

The Barbados Statistical Service produces a very useful indicator called the participation rate. This rate provides a measure for the economically active adult population that participates in the labour force. The labour force refers to those who are either employed and those who are actively seeking work.

Historically, there were more males than females in the labour force as women maintained the traditional roles of stay-at-home mothers and home-makers. As shown in the above graph, the male participation rates continued to exceed the female participation rates throughout the period, 2001-2005.

However, this labour force characteristic could potentially change. Over the five year period of 2001-2005, the female labour force has been growing at a faster rate than the male labour force. On average, the female labour force grew by approximately 0.8%, while the male labour force grew by only 0.4%.

This feminization of the labour force can be attributed to a number of factors. For example, although the woman’s role as primary caretaker of the children and home-maker still remains, the modernization of household technology and the commercialization of household activities, such as laundry, have released more time for females to participate in the labour force. Furthermore, the increased availability of child care services has also allowed more mothers to pursue some form of employment.

Women are also pursuing the educational opportunities that have been made increasingly available to them with flexible programme structures such as distance learning and part-time programmes. In 2004-2005, 20 females registered for the distance programme at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies compared to the 7 males who also registered. The overall level of educational attainment has increased significantly among the female adult population. In 2004-2005 alone, some 391 females had completed their undergraduate programmes at Cave Hill compared to 178 males.

How does this higher level of education among females affect their labour force participation? The answer is basic labour economic theory. Education increases a person’s potential earnings in the labour market and the opportunity costs of not participating in the labour force increases.

This makes it more attractive for individuals to participate in the labour market. Consequently, increased educational attainment among women has contributed to increased female participation rates.

Another significant factor that has influenced increased participation in the labour force of the female population is that Barbados is being transformed from the traditional agricultural economy to a more service oriented economy. Service industries tend to be more attractive to females. Consequently, it is not surprising that females dominate the labour force of the service industries such as wholesale and retail trade (females accounted for 56.1% of persons employed in this industry group in 2004), general services (52.9%), government services (54.2%) and finance and business services (63.9%). However, services are becoming equally as attractive to men and their increased participation in the labour force in these industries has led to the closing of the gender gaps that may have existed in some of these service industries.

It should be noted that there are insufficient indicators to adequately assess the informal sector. Therefore, while female participation in the formal sectors has steadily increased over the years, women have always had a strong presence in the informal sector. Stay-at-home mothers and homemakers went into the informal economy which offered the flexibility for them to carry out their domestic responsibilities and also earn some money. Therefore, although it is difficult to measure how these women have contributed to the economy, it is undeniable that their contribution has helped Barbados to get where it is today.

With the modernization of household technology and the commercialization of household activities, increased educational attainment among the female population and the growth of service employment opportunities, more women are participating in the labour force. This has eroded some of the gender disparities that once characterized the Barbados labour force. However, new disparities are arising as women begin to dominate the labour force in service industries.

Further, with women becoming major players in the labour force, a number of gender issues would come to a head such as workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. The Ministry of Labour recognizes this and is continuing its efforts to ensure decent work for all.

Published: Monday, 15th May, 2006


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