Women in the Paid Labour Force: Global Work-Family Challenges and Solutions

By Bahira S. Trask

As an increasing number of women join the global labour-force, families have undergone complex transformations. Specifically, balancing work and home responsibilities has become a global concern. Below, Bahira S. Trask highlights some of the reasons behind these changes and suggests potential strategies and policies that could alleviate the situation.

Around the globe we are witnessing an unprecedented social transformation. An increasing number of women are joining the paid labour force, gaining access to educational opportunities, and becoming socially empowered. According to a recent report by the International Labour Organisation, despite regional variation, “there have never before been so many economically active women”.1 For instance, between 1960 – 2010 the number of women working outside the home for pay escalated from 31 to 49 percent on the North American continent, from 32 to 53 percent in European countries, from 26 to 38 percent in much of the Caribbean, from 16 to 35 percent in Central America, from 17 to 26 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, from 27 to 64 percent in Oceania, and from 21 to 59 percent in South America. Even in Sub-Saharan Africa, a region characterised historically by a high number of gainfully employed women, the numbers increased slightly to approximately 62 percent.2 While impressive, these statistics do not adequately portray intra-regional variation nor the real impact of this phenomenon. In the United States for example, more than 61% of mothers with children under the age of 18, now work in the paid labour force. This would have been virtually unimaginable 30 years ago. And the importance of women’s working for the family economy cannot be overlooked: over 40% of women are the only or primary breadwinners.

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