Friday, June 01, 2007

Reading Summary: Married Women's Employment

“Living Rooms as Factories”: Women, the State, and Taiwan’s Economic Development

The essay examines the role of the state in reinforcing the patriarchal and anti-feminist social patterns in Taiwan during the period of the growth of the export-led economy. It points out how the KMT state’s policies acted to subordinate the needs of women, and especially married women, to the interests of patriarchal capitalism.

One means to achieving that end was through the use of community development programs, especially the “living rooms as factories” and “mothers’ workshops.” In the first program, women’s labor was exploited in order to harness surplus labor, decrease costs to capitalists, increase productivity, stabilize consumer prices, reduce friction between labor and capitalists, and encourage economic growth. These were all benefits to society in general, but they came at a cost to the women whose labor was utilized: due to the nature of the structure of the system, capitalists were free from the constraints of providing social benefits or decent wages to the laborers.

The second program, the “mothers’ workshops,” aimed at reinforcing traditional roles for women. Part of this was using women to provide free social services to their communities, among other things.

The essay also examines the development of labor laws in Taiwan, and the resistance of the capitalists and the state to their implementation. Despite the implementation of the Standard Labor Law, the state has taken a hands-off approach to its enforcement, thus benefiting the capitalist system that often ignores or circumvents the regulations.

The Satellite Factory System from Within

This essay examines the structure of the satellite factory system and how it functions to exploit labor as well as the unrealistic aspirations of workers who hope to become their own bosses. Again, as in the previous essay, it is shown that women and their labor are disproportionately taken advantage of. This is due to the small size of most of the firms in the satellite system, and their patriarchal nature, within which many married women work for free for their husband’s enterprise.

There is fierce competition between the satellite firms, but there is also a certain level of cooperation that is necessary in order for survival. In order to remain competitive, the owners of the firms pit the various labor groups (insiders, outsiders, and home workers) against each other in what amounts to a race to the bottom in terms of wages.

In the end, it seems that the traditional patriarchal social patterns have served to reinforce the patriarchal economic structures, which in turn have further reinforced the power of men as heads of households due to their also being the heads of family firms.

Married Women’s Employment in rapidly Industrializing Societies

In this paper the authors examine the divergence in patterns of female employment between Taiwan and South Korea. They examine five different explanatory models for why, despite having similar initial conditions, the two countries have had different outcomes in terms of the path of changing women’s labor force participation. These five models are the labor supply model, the labor demand model, the patriarchal values model, the new international division of labor model, and the export-led growth model.

The authors found that the labor supply model, which is based on the characteristics of women’s labor supply in the two countries, was insufficient to explain the divergent patterns. In fact, due to the similarities of the changes in female life-cycle patterns between the two countries, basing one’s examination on the labor supply explanation alone would lead to the conclusion that Taiwanese and Korean women would display converging patterns of work force participation, not diverging patterns.

Likewise, the patriarchal values model, which uses cultural practices that discourage women from joining the labor force as an explanation, was found to be inadequate to explain the phenomenon. This is because both countries have strong Confucian tradition of patrilineal and patrilocal patterns, and at one time they shared similar female employment patterns. At the time of the study, however, those patterns had diverged sharply, bringing the authors to the conclusion that the patriarchal values model cannot adequately explain the situation without including an examination of the labor demand in each society.

The authors found that the labor demand explanation seemed to provide the best explanation. Because Taiwan and South Korea have different economic organizational structures, the kinds of jobs available in each country is different. Because Taiwanese jobs are often more flexible and closer to home, as well as having a stronger personal bond between employer and employee, it is easier for married women to balance home and work. On the contrary, many South Korean jobs are at large firms that are often far from home and have a less flexible schedule. Education also play a role, in that in S. Korea, there is a surplus of highly educated males, which was a disincentive to lower traditional bars to women’s employment. In summary, the authors say that it is the intersection of the similar labor supplies of the two countries with the dissimilar labor demands of the two countries that explains the divergent labor patterns.

The authors also found the new international division of labor fails to explain Taiwan and South Korea, but the export-led growth explanation is more productive because it helps explain how Taiwan’s dispersed, labor-intensive industries differ in job makeup from South Korea’s more capital-intensive ones.

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