Kelan, E. 2008. “Gender, Risk and Employment Insecurity: The Masculine Breadwinner Subtext.”

Kelan, Elisabeth. 2008. “Gender, Risk and Employment Insecurity: The Masculine Breadwinner Subtext.” Human Relations 61(9): 1171-1202.

“The decline of the male breadwinner model goes hand in hand with an increased perception of insecurity and risk in the new economy”(1171) (see also Lewis 2001). Examines perception and responses to risk/insecurity based on gender, through ICT workers.  Looks at how job risk is normalized, discursive suggestions as to how women are less likely to experience job risk/insecurity, how breadwinning influences perception of risk, and improving skills and self to retain employability and breadwinning status.  Assumption of neoliberalist, self-entrepreneurialism.  Subtext presumes masculine breadwinning.  Work as insecure, individualized – expectation for individuals to “brand” selves as individual companies, and operate as free agents (Beck 2000; Du Gay 1996; Pongratz and Vob 2003). Focus of individuals and companies on employment and employee flexibility; however, presumption that gender and other social categories are considered less important to risk, and work insecurity is made out to be an individual (dis)ability. Male breadwinner model in decline, perceptions of risk, experiences of unemployment as gendered (due to the nature of women having networks centered on the home – Russell 1999); ability to find jobs disadvantages by age and gender – particularly older women (McMullin and Berger 2006, Weller 2007). Women have less time to invest in human and social capital, due to work and family commitments; more prone to select insecure jobs (Ekinsmyth 1999, Gill 2002, Perrons 2003).  Although male breadwinner model becoming outdated, presumption of masculine breadwinning mentality – that is, “an individualized worker who can focus on work full-time” (1172).

Widely assumed that work has become more insecure – globalized economy produces outsourcing and job shifts, new careers, new modes of thinking about work.  People perceive work as more insecure (Burchell 2000, Wichert 2002), though objective indicators of security (like tenure) have not shifted that greatly.  Tendency is observable in younger people – “tend to find individualized solutions to dealing with risk, seeing it as part of their autonomy and a challenge they have to overcome” (1174) – delay of property purchase, beginning families.

Breadwinner jobs as formed in response and relation to breadwinner familial model – separation of spheres – however, women in paid employment as single earners or supplemental workers; women’s work experiences as heterogeneous (Ehrenreich & Hoschchild 2003, Hakim 1996).  Women in paid employment still in compliance with male breadwinner, encouraged through ‘offramps’ to care for family. “Many of the threats to identity which come with higher risk and insecurity at work seem to apply mainly to a male breadwinner, as women have tended to have alternative identities on which they could draw” (1175, see also Wajcman and Martin 2002).  Men as having networks central to work, some argue men suffer more from job losses than women (Burchell 1994, Russell 1999) rather than women, who have composite work and private life identities. “The breadwinner model is also threated by a cultural feminization at work, which means that many skills associated with women are in high demand” (see Hill 1997, Nixon 2005, Webster 2000, Weis 2006).  Flexible work as seen as feminized, antithetical to breadwinning, unstable (Beasley et al 2001, Bryant 2000, Mirchandani 1998, Sullivan and Lewis 2001).

“The feminization of work does not seem to challenge the masculine breadwinner model, which is itself an expression of the masculine subtext which pervades many organizations” (Bendl 2008; Benschop & Doorewaard 1998a&b, Puwar 2004).

Transnational business masculinity – organizing life like enterprise, neoliberalist – new technologies and little commitments – homo economicus –“rational agents in the market embodying the same egoistic stance of only looking after their own economic well-being” (Connell 1998, 2000; Connell & Wood 2005).

Men’s interests- protecting standard of living, coping with issues of automation and redundancy, frustrations of outsources, lack of security, protectionism of employees with families and spouses and assumed breadwinner statuses.

Women seem to be confident in their roles at work, ignorance to risk…?

“It seems that younger men without breadwinning responsibility and older men are more likely to be made redundant than women of any age” (1185-1186).  Many of those interviewed were either single or in dual-earner couples. Flexibility considered necessary to cope with market insecurity – however, second shifts may inhibit ability to be flexible, due to second shifts in household and caring work (Dixon and Wetherell 2004, Hochschild and Machung 2003).  Absence of gender in verbal discourse does not mean absence of gendered subtext – assumptions make about lack of other responsibilities (familial, etc.) implies masculinized focus on full-time job.


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