Key points: Unequal distribution of men and women across occupations can lead to gender asymmetry in the labour market. In turn, excessive gender asymmetry can cause problems, such as gender-based discrimination in certain occupations and positions, fragile marriages where the partners are unequal in terms of social status, increased risks of female unemployment, and loss of efficiency in many spheres of the economy.
Facts: Russia has a particularly unequal distribution of men and women in employment. Gender asymmetry is reflected in the ‘feminisation’ of white-collar jobs and a disproportionate number of men among blue-collar workers. In addition to this, increasing automation in traditionally male industrial sectors is leading to fewer jobs available to men. In contrast, occupations with a growing demand for skills tend to be those which are mainly filled by women.
According to Natalia Tikhonova, a social scientist with HSE University, gender asymmetry has been on the rise in Russia's labour market over the past 20 years. Thus, more than 80% of skilled blue-collar workers – drivers, assemblers, machine operators, among others – in transport, construction and other industries are men. While a gender parity is observed in jobs requiring elementary skills and also in fishing, agriculture and forestry, with 52%–53% male employees, knowledge-intensive occupations clearly show the opposite trend. Men still hold the majority of senior positions – although the proportion of women executives is significant at about 45% and growing – high-skilled professional jobs are dominated by women (63.3%). In addition to this, there are growing gaps in average age structure across professional groups, and more than half of all employed Russians work in occupations which are different from their training or in positions which are far below their qualifications. Tikhonova's paper has been published in Social Sciences and Contemporary World.
The observed imbalances result from a series of changes in the occupational structure of Russian society in the past few decades. In the 1990s, Russia saw a sharp drop in employment in sectors such as science, manufacturing and agriculture, alongside a rise in employment in retail trade. These trends continued into the 2000s, alongside an emerging new demand for employees with professional training, which grew even stronger in the 2010s, causing more Russians to seek higher education.
However, the rates of higher education attainment soon began to outpace the availability of jobs for new graduates. With the demand-supply gap getting worse over time, many university graduates have joined the ranks of the unemployed or taken up jobs which do not require their training. Nonetheless, potential employers tend to value candidates with university degrees and to offer them better working conditions and higher pay. Therefore, many Russians, particularly women, continue to seek higher education.
Indeed, nearly 50% of Russian women aged between 25 and 29 hold university degrees, compared to just 36% of men in the same age group.
'By looking at age distribution in employment over the past decade in Russia', Tikhonova comments, 'we can see a decline in the number of employees under 25 and an increase in the 25-44 age group'. The share of people under 25 and over 55 in the workforce is becoming disproportionally low, with the average employee age increasing from 40 to 40.8 between 2009 and 2017.
The study uses data from Rosstat's Classification of Occupations (OKZ) and from the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey RLMS HSE (based on population surveys conducted in 2001, 2009 and 2018), and defines jobs according to the International Standard Classification of Occupations 2008 (ISCO-08).
Employment in white-collar occupations and retail trade and services has grown by almost 1.3 times, alongside a decline in the number of blue-collar jobs by nearly 1.1 times, over the past 20 years in Russia.
Source: RLMS HSE, 2001–2018
New employees in the ‘Professionals’ category are mainly women who are more likely than men to be trained in white-collar occupations and less likely to opt for blue-collar jobs in the industrial sector, where the number of female employees has dropped by 1.5 times over the past 20 years, although men are still a majority with almost 83% of all jobs.
Blue-collar occupations being traditionally male is an ever-growing problem, with shrinking employment opportunities and higher risks of 'male' unemployment and loss of interest among young people in worker occupations.
Source: Rosstat, 2017
Until recently, unemployed men often applied for private or corporate security jobs, adding 731,000 (a 1.5 increase) to the overall number of security guards in the country between 2001 and 2017. However, according to Tikhonova, there are hardly any more jobs available in this sector. Now more Russian men are seeking higher education – and the workplace bonuses that come with it – regardless of their choice of occupation.
But women may need a university degree even more than men in order to find and keep a job. With a growing number of female job seekers competing for fewer available jobs, women face higher risks of unemployment. Moreover, women employed in 'typically female' jobs tend to report lower job satisfaction, often due to high competition, and many are concerned that if they lose their current employment, finding a new job would be hard or impossible. In addition to this, women are usually paid less than men (according to RLMS-HSE, 24,000 rubles on average, compared to 35,700 paid to men),
Women are also more likely to be employed in the informal economy with limited social guarantees. Almost one-fourth of Russian women with university degrees are unemployed, a 1.8-fold increase over 10 years.
Yet another problem, unrelated to gender, is that many university graduates in Russia are forced to take up jobs which have nothing to do with their degree. 'More than 30% of recent graduates across academic majors take up blue-collar jobs unrelated to their training', according to Tikhonova who describes it as falling into a qualification gap.
Unfortunately, the mismatch between skills acquired in university and those in demand in the labour market is a massive challenge in Russia. According to BCG estimates, some 34 million Russians, or nearly half of the country's economically active population, are now facing this problem, while RLMS-HSE data indicates that more than 50% of the country's current workforce may be affected by the qualification gap which continues to grow.
The government needs to be aware of skills mismatch in the labour market in order to build an effective policy response.
Academic researchers could also use the global data instead of only examining the situation in certain sectors. Indeed, academic research into trends in occupational structure and its changes over time is very limited and was published before the crises of 2008-2009 and 2014-2016. Currently, evidence-based insight on the problem causes and scope is still lacking, while the labour market continues to change at a high pace. With new technology displacing old occupations and bringing new ones to life (with 200 new occupations estimated to appear in the next decade), futurologists predict massive unemployment, but no one seems to have a clue what can be done about it.