Changes In Global Trade Patterns And Women’s Employment In Manufacturing, 1995–2011 Feminist Economics

Feminist Economics

Dürdane Şirin Saraçoğlu, Emel Memiş, Ebru Voyvoda, and Burça Kızılırmak

Earlier literature has emphasized diverging trends in the changes in women’s share in manufacturing employment between the Global South and North. In the South, previous evidence shows that export orientation has stimulated employment in labor-intensive sectors and thus has induced feminization, while in the North the exit from low-skilled, labor-intensive industries has prompted defeminization in manufacturing employment. In fact, recent evidence shows that as countries move up the skill-ladder toward more capital-intensive production, women’s share in manufacturing employment tends to fall. As economies transition from a semi-industrialized structure to a more capital- and technologically intensive stage of industrialization, labor shedding in export-oriented industries may lead to a decrease in women’s share in employment, as some jobs disappear and as new ones are identified as “technical” jobs or “men’s” jobs. Such transformations may affect women’s share of employment via changes in the sectoral composition of employment in manufacturing and also may lead to changes in the gender composition of employment within a given sector. Dürdane Şirin Saraçoğlu, Emel Memiş, Ebru Voyvoda, and Burça Kızılırmak’s study identifies these two underlying sources behind the changes in women’s share in manufacturing employment, and establishes the potential linkages of each source with the changes in the structure of trade.

Methodology. First, Saraçoğlu, Memiş, Voyvoda, and Kızılırmak decompose the changes in women’s share in manufacturing employment into two components via structural decomposition analysis (SDA): (i) the reallocation of employment across sectors; and (ii) within-sector changes in gender composition of employment. Furthermore, conducting factor content analysis (FCA), they account for the trade impacts on women’s employment, isolating them from the domestic demand and supply effects. The authors interpret results from the SDA and the FCA together, that is, first they associate the direct outcome of the FCA with the sectoral reallocation of employment, and second, they relate the gender bias outcomes obtained from the FCA with the contribution of the within-sector effect. The analysis uses data from thirty countries (sixteen North, fourteen South) for the period 1995–2011.

Main findings. As a general trend, Saraçoğlu, Memiş, Voyvoda, and Kızılırmak observe that defeminization in manufacturing has persisted in the North over the period of analysis, led by a negative trade impact in low-technology industries. In the South, feminization and defeminization trends are not as straightforward as in the North. They determine that the defeminization trend in low-technology industries, which was particular to the developed world, has recently spilled over to the developing world, especially the middle-income countries. Results disaggregated by major trade partners display the significance of the role played by the changes in bilateral trade with China but also the diversion of trade toward China, particularly in low-technology manufacturing. Sector-level observations by trade partners present, without exception, in all of the countries in the North show that women’s employment in low-technology industries has been affected negatively by the changes in the structure of trade particularly with China, albeit to varying degrees (for example, the United States has incurred by far the strongest negative impact of trade with China). On the other front, women’s employment in medium-high- and high-technology industries both in the South and the North has relatively improved; however, the authors still observe a gender bias against women particularly in high-technology industries. That is, women’s employment gains lag behind the gains in men’s employment and are not sufficient to offset the large losses in women’s employment in low-technology sectors.

Research implications. One of the key takeaways from Saraçoğlu, Memiş, Voyvoda, and Kızılırmak’s study is that as countries upgrade and enhance their industry out of low-skilled, labor-intensive manufacturing into higher-technology production, the share of women’s employment in manufacturing tends to decrease. Technological considerations of production of traded goods continue to have a major role in determining the trends in women’s share in manufacturing employment.

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