Skills, Employers, and Work-Family Policies

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
WMP Yudowitz Seminar Room 1 (University of Glasgow)
Magnus Bergli Rasmussen , Department of Government, Aarhus University
A debated issue in comparative political economy is to what extent employers resist or support the expansion of social policies. In this study, we focus on organized employers’ role in reforming work-family policies (WFPs). WFPs are policies aimed at facilitating women’s entry and return to the labor market, such as paid parental leave. Favoring male-breadwinners, the key political actors, including employers, were not interested in expanding WFPs during the pinnacle of welfare state expansion after WWII. Over the last decades, however, states have to varying extent started expanding WFPs. Studying WFPs may thus provide insight into the puzzle of when and why employers’ change their social policy preferences. To address this, we develop a theory of employers’ preferences that highlights the importance of employers’ demand for high-skilled labor, firm size, and the presence of national-level corporatist institutions. First, large firms operating in an economy with a skilled female workforce should be supportive of WFPs, as these policies help them satisfy their need for skilled workers. Small firms, on the other hand, are more likely to resist WFPs, since finding temporary replacement workers is more costly for them. We also emphasize that employers’ possibility of turning preferences into policy depends on whether corporatist institutions give them policy influence.  Using data on parental leave generosity from 1960 and onwards for 18 countries, and an in-depth case study on the development of WFPs in Norway from 1960 to 2016, we document how an increasingly feminized highly-educated workforce turned employers from antagonists to protagonists.