Labour market trends

The gender-divided labour market


In an international context, Norway is often regarded as a leader in gender equality. The employment level for women is approaching the same level as for men. However Norway still has an extremely gender-divided labour market. Statistics show systematic differences between men and women. Women work in the public sector to a greater extent; within health and care services, and hold managerial positions to a lesser extent than men.

This article examines what statistics can reveal about the Norwegian labour market. Particular emphasis will be on women and men in employment and on how the situation has changed in the last 10 to 30 years.

Increasing numbers of women in employment

Being employed and having ones own source of income have been important issues in the fight for womens rights. It seems that Norway has made good progress in this area. While 44 per cent of women were working in 1972, the figure in 2002 had risen to 67 per cent. By way of comparison, men in employment fell from 77 per cent to 74 per cent. Economic fluctuations in this period had a significant affect on the employment trend for men, whilst having very little affect on womens participation in working life.

Terms and data basis

Persons in employment are defined as those aged between 16 and 74 who carried out income-earning work for at least one hour during the week the survey was conducted, as well as persons covered by this definition but who were temporarily absent due to illness, holiday, paid leave etc. Armed forces conscripts and those assigned to civilian duties are also regarded as in employment.


The main source for labour market statistics is the Labour Force Survey (LFS). This is a quarterly interview-based survey of 24 000 respondents aged between 16 and 74. The LFS provides information on the state and development of the labour market, and form the basis for labour market forecasts and reports.


Despite employment levels of women increasing in all age groups, most of the levelling out between the sexes is due to the entry of mothers into the labour market, particularly between 1980 and 1990 (Kjelstad 1998). This article focuses particularly on 1980 and 2002. It seems that women with young children under 3 now work to a greater extent than before. However, not surprisingly, women with one child work to a greater extent than women with two or more children.

This demonstrates that it is also fully possible for women to combine family life with employment. Welfare schemes such as maternity leave, and the gradual transfer of care work from the private family arena to the public sector, have made this possible to a greater extent than before. This article also examines how women have taken up occupations as care workers.

Women stated that they now spend less time on housework than 30 years ago, whilst men said they spent longer. Figures from the survey on use of time show that women still spend an average of over one hour more a day on housework (includes housework, care work, maintenance work and buying goods and services).


...but women work less than men

A total of 4 out of 10 women have employment contracts that entail part-time working, whereas only 1 out of 10 men have the same. Therefore, despite the substantial increase in the employment level of women, and the fact that it is approaching the male employment level, women still have shorter working hours than men. In 2002, women worked an average of 30.5 hours a week while men worked 38.4, which means that men worked around 8 hours more than women. Between 1980 and 2002, the difference between women and mens working hours was reduced. Women work on average over one hour more today than in 1980. For the same period, men work an average of 1.5 hours less today than before.

Not surprisingly, it is the youngest and oldest women and men who work the least. Both women and men work the most at the age when the majority of people have children. Since 1980, the proportion of men working part-time has been stable, while the figure for women has fallen from 5 out of 10 to 4 out of 10. This means that the proportion of women in full-time employment is increasing.

Young adult women (aged 20-24) and older women (aged 55-74) work mostly part-time. It is interesting to note that at the same time there has been a fall in the number of women working part-time at the age associated with having young children (aged 25-39). Men aged 25-54 hold the fewest part-time jobs of all men.

Part-time employed women with children under 16 years
of age and age of youngest child. 1989, 1992, 1996 and
2002. Per cent
            1989           1992           1996           2002
Women with children, total        
57 53 50 45  
One child 49 46 44 38
0-2 years old 44 36 37 32
3-6 years old 53 45 44 44
7-10 years old 56 50 48 38
11-15 years old 49 51 47 40
Two children or more 64 60 56 50
0-2 years old 65 56 50 46
3-6 years old 67 64 59 54
7-10 years old 62 63 57 51
11-15 years old 55 53 53 45
Source:  Labour Force Survey.

As discussed previously, much of the levelling out of the employment between the sexes is due to the entry of mothers into the labour market. It is also reasonable to assume that many women with young children work part-time. We have examined 1989 and 2002, during which time the employment level of women increased from 60 per cent to 67 per cent. During the same period, there was also a fall in the number of women with children working part-time. In 2002, 45 per cent of all women with children worked part-time, and 50 per cent of the women with 2 children or more. In 1989, 57 per cent of women with young children worked part-time. In 2002, there were fewer women with children under 2 who worked part-time than women with older children. This shows that it has become more common for women with young children to combine the role of motherhood with working full-time.

Simultaneous to more women taking up employment and working part-time, nursery care coverage for young children aged 1-2 increased from 7 per cent in 1980 to 40 per cent in 2002. However, in the same period there was a fall in the number of full-time nursery places (33 hours a week or more) for children in this age group.

Part - time / full - time :

Part-time is defined as 1-32 hours, whilst full-time is 37 hours or more. Full-time includes occupations where part-time is defined as less than 37 hours, such as nurses, oil workers and seamen.

Horizontal division of labour

Despite the employment level of women experiencing a substantial increase in recent decades, there are still considerable differences with regard to the different industries. The division of labour between men and women in the labour market can be described as horizontal . This means that women and men to a large degree work within different industries. Women are dominant in the health care occupations and men have a distinct majority within crafts and trades, oil production and building and construction. Table 2 shows the proportion of women within the different industries. A total of 8 out of 10 who work in health and social services are women, with half of these working part-time. This is also the industry with the highest number of employees. The number of women in teaching is also high, and the wholesale and retail trade, and hotel and restaurant industry also have a certain predominance of women. Within agriculture, oil and gas production and manufacturing there are still substantially more men than women.

Proportion of employed women, by industry. 2002. Per cent
Industry Women, per cent
01-05 Agriculture, forestry and fishing 23
11 Extraction of crude petroleum and natural gas 16
12-37 Manufacturing, mining and quarrying 26
40-41 Power and water supply 20
45 Construction 8
50-55 Wholesale and retail trade, hotels and restaurants 51
60-64 Transport and communication 28
65-67 Financial intermediation 49
70-74 Real estate, renting and business activities 38
75 Public administration and defence, compulsory social security 46
80 Education 64
85 Health and social work 83
90-99 Other community, social and personal service activities 54
Source:  Labour Force Survey.

The major changes in the horizontal division of labour take place slowly. We are not able to provide answers as to the differences between male and female employment levels within different industries. However, it can be stated that the gender division does not appear to become smaller, if we consider education choices in both secondary and higher education.

With regard to secondary education, there is still a clear distinction between the lines of study chosen by boys and girls. Girls opt for general studies (preparatory studies for university) to a greater extent than boys, as well as health and social studies and design subjects. Technical and mechanical subjects, as well as building, are chosen by far more boys. These are lines of study that lead to crafts and trades and work in the manufacturing, building and construction industries etc. This means that there is an exclusion of future occupational careers at a young age.

The situation is the same at university level. Six out of ten university college and university students today are women. However, the choice of subject is traditional. A total of 8 out of 10 students undertaking teacher training and pedagogic studies are women. This also applies to health, social and sports subjects. Correspondingly, 7 out of 10 students undertaking scientific, crafts and technical studies are men. Other subjects are more neutral, such as economics and administrative subjects.

The education pattern is also apparent among those who are in employment today. Fewer of the workforce have only compulsory schooling, which must be regarded together with the general increase in the education level of the population. If we consider the type of education held by the current workforce, we see that a total of 40 per cent of the men undertook scientific, craft and technical studies compared to 7 per cent of the women. More than 22 per cent of the women in employment undertook health, social and sport subjects.

Employed, by education and gender. 2002. Per cent
Subject             Women             Men
General subjects 29 25
Humanities and arts 7 4
Teacher training and pedagogy 9 3
Social sciences and law 3 3
Business and administration 18 11
Natural sciences, vocational and technical subjects 7 41
Health, welfare and sport 22 3
Primary industries 1 3
Tranport and communication, safety, security and other services 4 5
Unspecified 1 1
Source:  Labour Force Survey.

It could be argued whether it is the gender-divided education system that creates the gender-divided labour market, or whether the gender-divided labour market creates the pattern in the education system. In any case, there are no dramatic changes on the horizon.

Vertical division of labour

The gender division in the labour market can also be described as vertical with regard to the different occupations taken up by women and men. If we take the proportion of women and men in the largest occupation categories, we can see that there are substantial differences between the types of occupations taken up by women and men. Far more men than women are in managerial positions. The majority of women in 2002 were to be found in office jobs and sales and service occupations. The majority of men were in crafts and trades, operator/driver jobs, primary industry jobs and managerial occupations.

Employed women and men, by occupational group. 2000-2002. Per cent
Occupational group 2000 2001 2002
     Women      Men      Women      Men      Women      Men
Senior officials and managers 24 76 26 74 28 72
Professionals 42 58 41 59 42 58
Technicians and associate professionals 52 48 52 48 53 48
Clerks 70 30 69 31 68 32
Service workers and shop and market sales workers 71 29 73 27 73 27
Farmers, fishermen etc. 26 74 24 76 23 75
Crafts and related trades workers 9 91 8 92 8 93
Plant and machine operators and assemblers 16 84 17 83 17 82
Other occupations 60 40 60 40 60 40
Source:  Labour Force Survey.

The main occupation groups show clear distinctions between male and female occupations. For example, there are major differences within those occupations requiring a university college education.


Female occupations and male occupations

Consequently, there are distinct male occupations and female occupations. We have considered the development in the gender balance in a selection of occupational groups in the last 20 years, from 1982 to 2002. Since 1982, the employment level has increased by 17 per cent. Three quarters of this increase is related to women. But has this affected the gender balance in any of the most “typical” female and male occupations?

The group of occupations requiring a university college education in table 4 includes nurses, primary school teachers, kindergarten teachers and engineers. Nurses had almost an identical breakdown at both points in time, whilst women strengthened their position as primary school teachers. With regard to kindergarten teachers, substantial growth has been seen in this occupation during the last 20 years, from 6 000 to 12 000. This means that many more men have chosen this occupation to the point that it has made a marked difference to the statistics. There has also been a large increase in the number of female engineers.

Few female managers

With regard to company managers, the proportion of women has shown a notable increase in the last 20 years. However, it is not easy to group managerial occupations in order to ascertain comparable figures. The Standard Classification of Occupations that was used in 1982 grouped fewer occupations in the management occupations than is the case in the current standard. However, there is still reason to believe that the entry of women into the labour market has also led to increased representation in management. The question of women and management has been the subject of great debate. Only 10 per cent of directors and chief executives in large enterprises are women. However, if we include managers of small enterprises, with less than 10 employees, the proportion of female managers rises to 19 per cent. The majority of managers of small enterprises are in the wholesale and retail trade, where the proportion of women in employment is also highest. In order to be classified as a manager, a person must carry out administrative management and spend at least half of their working hours on these tasks.

...but every third middle manager is a woman

In contrast to small enterprises with only one manager, large enterprises have a hierarchy of managers. Directors and chief executives normally have several managers below them. Women manifest themselves much more frequently among these middle managers than in executive management positions and every third middle manager is a woman.

Female middle managers in total and broken down by industry. 2002. Absolute
figures and per cent
              Total             Percentage women
Middle managers in total  118 000 32
Middle managers in manufacturing 12 000 8
Middle managers in wholesale and retail trade, hotels and restaurants 13 000 38
Middle managers in financial intermediation 10 000 25
Middle managers in public administration 13 000 35
Middle managers in education, health and social work 16 000 62
Source:  Labour Force Survey.

There are also substantial differences in the proportions of women and men at middle manager level within different industries. Female managers are much more prevalent within teaching and the health sector, the wholesale and retail trade, the hotel and restaurant industry and public administration.

The lack of female managers is perhaps an indication that there is a systematic gender hierarchy in industry as a whole (cf. Soheim and Ellingseter 2003). The fact that we find a high number of female managers within sectors that have a high proportion of women may be due to a natural recruitment basis. Within manufacturing etc. there are correspondingly fewer women employed and therefore a poorer recruitment basis for managerial positions.

Female managers hold fewer part-time positions than women in other occupations

Womens work patterns in managerial positions are more similar to mens work patterns than to other womens work patterns. Whilst 4 out of 10 women work part-time, this only applies to 1 out of 10 female managers. Since so few female managers work part-time, the difference in agreed working hours and actual hours worked is also much smaller between women and men in managerial positions than between women and men in general. Female managers are contracted to work 37 hours a week, i.e. around three hours less than male managers.


Men work more than women

On average, women have seven agreed working hours less per week than the male average. The labour force statistics differentiate between the agreed working hours and the actual hours that a person works. As a whole, women work an average of around 25 minutes less than the agreed hours and men around 30 minutes more. This is because men work more overtime than women and because women have a higher rate of absenteeism than men.

With regard to actual hours worked, women in managerial positions work less than one hour more than agreed, whilst men in similar positions work over one hour more than agreed.

Mostly women in public sector

One clear distinction in men and womens work patterns is that women work in the public sector to a much greater extent than men. Correspondingly, men work to a greater extent in the private sector than women. It could be debated where the value creation in industry is taking place. The private business sector is normally linked to production and the market versus the public sector, which is responsible for reproduction and care. Whether this is the main reason for womens salaries equating to just 83 per cent of mens salaries on average in 2002 is difficult to determine since when we look at the different industries, men earn more than women on average. There is a general perception that there are more financial resources available within the private business sector than the public sector. In any case this is the trend with regard to occupations for persons with higher education. We also find industries with low salaries within the private sector, which are the most female-dominated industries such as the wholesale and retail trade and the hotel and restaurant industry.

Employed women and men, by occupation and private/public sector. 2002.
Per cent
Occupational group Private sector Public sector
          Women           Men           Women           Men
£In total 52 79 48 20
Senior officials and managers 65 82 35 18
Professionals 31 60 69 40
Technicians and associate professionals 39 73 61 27
Clerks 67 78 32 22
Service workers and shop and market sales workers 52 71 48 29
Farmers, fishermen etc.  100 98 0 2
Crafts and other trades workers 84 94 11 6
Plant and machine operators and assemblers 93 94 7 6
Other occupations 60 58 39 41
Source:  Labour Force Survey.

On the other hand, the public sector perhaps provides more guaranteed leaves of absence and welfare schemes. Furthermore, it is more common to work part-time in the public sector than in the private sector. For those interested in pursuing a career, hours at work can be a measurement of effort and an important rung on the ladder.

Public services are mostly made up of jobs held by females. The need for the public health service, teaching and care are in the short term only slightly affected by fluctuations in the economy. Women have therefore also been more protected from the downturn in economic activity in the labour market. It also appears that the increased level of unemployment in recent years has affected fewer women than men.

Concluding remarks

The difference between women and mens participation in the labour force has never been less than it is now. As care for children and the elderly has become a public responsibility, women have increasingly taken up income-earning work. However more women than men work part-time. At the same time, there are now fewer women with young children who work part-time than previously. This must be partly due to more women managing to combine family life and work.

The labour market is, however, gender divided. We find differences in employment levels between women and men within different industries and different occupations. It is also the case that far more men than women work in the private labour market. This is linked to the fact that women are employed with administration, care (the health service, nurseries) and teaching jobs to a greater extent than men, and that these are major public sector industries. It is also the case that women work in jobs that are less affected by economic trends than men.

Labour market gender segregation is perhaps a topic that is not reflected upon, and is almost a “natural” state. The mechanisms that lie behind it remain diffuse. Changes in the labour market happen slowly. Education statistics also show that pupils and students follow the traditional gender role pattern to a large extent in their choice of education. To the degree that there are changes, the trend is greater for women to take up male-dominated occupations (and education) than vice versa.

We should also be aware that there are differences between women and between men in working life (cf. Solheim and Ellingsæter 2003). Women and men are not homogeneous groups. Women and men are found in the entire spectrum of occupations. As with men, women also have access to managerial positions but we also find women and men on the shop floor. In this context, it may be the case that social background, or class, together with gender also “divide” the labour market. This indicates that there are complex causal relations for the labour market being so gender divided.

Reference list

Håland, Inger and Kristin Glad (2003): Only one in ten executive managers are women .

Kjeldstad, Randi (1998): Kvinner og menn 1998: Hvor likestilte er vi ? Samfunnsspeilet 5/1998

Solheim, Jorunn and Anne Lise Ellingsæter (2003): Den usynlige hånd. Kjønnsmakt og moderne arbeidsliv. Oslo: Gyldendal akademisk forlag

Statistics Norway (2003): Wage statistics. Full-time equivalents. 1997-2002 .

Statistics Norway (2003): Sosial indikatorer , Samfunnspeilet 4/2003

Statistics Norway (2002): Tidsbruksundersøkelsen 1971-2000 .

Statistics Norway (2003): Education statistics .

Vikan, Stein Terje (2001): Kvinner og menn i Norge 2000 , Statistiske analyser 43, Statistics Norway

Vikan, Stein Terje (2002): Norway - world leader in gender equality .