A snapshot of work today

Social Change and Innovation in the Labour Market
May 14, 1999

The outcome of Catherine Hakim's scholarly investigation of social change in the labour market is a remarkably fine book on a highly topical subject. In the mid-1990s the Census Office released, for the first time, 1 per cent and 2 per cent samples of anonymised records (SARs) from the 1991 British census. Hakim's study presents the first analysis of labour market data from the new SARs and draws comparisons with research for the United States, France, Germany and other developed countries.

The comparative evidence brings recent developments in the British labour market into clearer focus. The author identifies the emergence of a distinctive category of integrated occupations in which highly qualified women and men are equally employed, but confirms the persistence of gender segregation in other spheres of employment. Other aspects of change include diversification of part-time work, a new type of marginal employment, and expansion of student jobs. The study offers fresh and illuminating insights into the pay gap, change in social stratification, occupational differences in labour mobility, trends in home-working and self-employment, travel-to-work patterns and the effect of housing choice on female work rates. These themes are illustrated by a case study of pharmacists. The book contains an excellent introductory guide for anyone intending to use the SARs, explaining the possibilities and advantages of this source, but it also warns of the pitfalls in the data. The several statistical tables, which are carefully constructed and not so large and numerous as to daunt the diffident reader, form one of the book's main strengths and will draw admiration, and possibly a degree of envy, from the statistically competent.

The chapter on home-working reinforces earlier, tentative challenges to the assumption that home-workers are almost exclusively women forced by child-care responsibilities to take low-paid manual jobs at home. Hakim shows that many home-workers are men, that most female home-workers do not have young children, that non-manual home-workers are in the majority and that earnings, far from being universally low, vary widely.

Hakim has the skill, which is sometimes lamentably lacking among academic writers, of clarifying the complex, of devising intelligible ways of presenting a vast and intricate array of data, and of disclosing subtleties in her interpretation without labyrinthine digression. Part of the attractiveness of this volume, as of the many articles, research papers and books produced by Hakim during the past decade, is her succinct, businesslike, no-nonsense treatment of the subject - a jargon-free prose style - and an absence of the kind of pretentiousness that gives academia a bad name.

Even so, this book, with all its merits, could have included rather more of the context in which labour market changes have occurred. The trades unions are mentioned only briefly, and the effects upon internal and external labour markets of drastically reduced union membership in Britain and of legal curbs on union rights and immunities are not considered. Likewise, there is little about the impact of deregulation of the labour market, decentralisation of pay determination, privatisation of much of the public sector, and the decay of the structure of industry-wide bargaining at national level. While the bibliography is outstanding, the subject index is short and lacks detail.

These criticisms aside, Hakim has succeeded in producing a stylish book that will be of great value in management schools, business studies, sociology, contemporary history, political science and labour economics. With its cross-national comparisons, it should be of interest both in Britain and abroad.

Alice Russell is lecturer in economic and social history, University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Social Change and Innovation in the Labour Market

Author - Catherine Hakim
ISBN - 0 19 829381 X
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £45.00
Pages - 318

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