Gender, migrant status and school-to-work transition

Despite advances in recent decades, women have faced considerable wage differentials, segregated job opportunities and an underrepresentation in senior positions. These gender differences within and outside the labour market have created risks of vulnerability that interact with other dimensions to change or exacerbate the same risks over the life cycle.

One significant dimension of vulnerability is migrant status (Meeuwisse et al. 2010). Young migrants generally face non-recognition of training credentials, which results in ‘de-skilling’, whereby they can only obtain jobs beneath their qualifications (Cortina et al. 2014). This may mean unregulated, precarious and poorly paid work for migrants, producing divisions among young workers. A particular focus on the interaction of migrant status and gender is necessary to understand the school-to-work (STW) transition pathways of vulnerable groups in Europe.

To account for this, we map vulnerability in STW transitions across gender and migrant status. We consider the extent to which policies directed at young people recognise the multiplicity of factors that affect women’s and migrants’, and particularly migrant women’s transition from education to the labour market. We show the role of intersectionality of gender and migrant status in maintaining and, in some cases, increasing vulnerability regarding various labour market outcomes.

In our EU-wide comparative analyses, we use the EU-SILC (cross-sectional) waves from 2005 to 2013. When engaging in cross-national comparative analyses, it is important to consider the institutional environment that might aid or hinder a smooth transition into the labour market. The extent of vulnerabilities and gender differences are influenced by young people’s context (Whelan and Maître 2010). Thus, we use a sample of countries in order to represent four types of regimes for STW transitions – universalistic (Denmark and the Netherlands), liberal (UK), employment-centred (France and Belgium) and subprotective countries (Spain, Greece and Turkey); where the data permit, we also include an analysis of Slovakia as an example of a post-communist regime.

The context matters in vulnerable transitions

Our comparative analysis of vulnerabilities across different regimes of STW transitions points to a critical effect of intersectionality, which results in different routes and fragmented transitions between school and the labour market, with women and migrants often suffering the most. Nevertheless, school-to-work regimes reproduce different regularities of inequalities in varying degrees.

Our findings show that regimes characterised by an institutionalised Vocational Education Training (VET) system and strong counselling support for training and employment such as found in Denmark, tend to perform relatively well in facilitating STW transitions of different vulnerable groups. By contrast, France’s employment-centred regime, characterised by fewer second-chance options, creates early disconnection of immigrant youth from education and the labour market. The UK is an interesting case in which vulnerability is not directly correlated with immigration or minority status. In subprotective Spain and Greece, transitions are the most heterogeneous, non-linear and unpredictable. Limited standard workplaces, unprotected living conditions, and a large informal economy combine with an underdeveloped VET system to make gender and migrant status strong determinants of youth unemployment.

Gender and migrant status matter in vulnerable transitions

Our analysis of the EU-SILC data points at strong evidence of the intersectionality of youth, gender and other forms of vulnerability linked to migrant status.

Young migrant males typically participate more in education than young native males across Europe. In contrast, fewer young migrant females are in education compared to their native counterparts in all countries, with the exception of the Netherlands and the UK.

Our findings also show that in all European countries, except the UK, females had a higher unemployment rate before the crisis, but that the rise in the unemployment rate for young males meant that gender gaps closed and, in some cases, were reversed. As for migrants, they tend to have higher unemployment rates than EU nationals. Particularly in employment-centred France and Belgium, the young migrant unemployment rate is over 25%.

We also found that being a NEET is a more critical issue for females. A larger share of young females stays out of both the labour force and education in Greece, Spain, France and the UK; Denmark reported no significant difference between young women and men. In Greece and Spain, furthermore, NEET rates have been persistently higher among women. The persistence of the gender gap (albeit significantly reduced) indicates continued barriers to employment, education and training for young women.

Our results also suggest that NEET status is more common among migrants than EU nationals; the number of migrant NEETs has grown much faster than that of native NEETs. Between 40% and 50% of migrants are NEETs in Spain and Greece, while in employment-centred France and Belgium, the rate of joblessness among migrants is as high as in southern European countries.

Intersectionality matters in vulnerable transitions

Our results suggest that migrant females are the most disadvantaged group in terms of unemployment in all countries. The risk of unemployment is higher for more educated migrant females in employment-centred and subprotective countries. Similarly, the risk of inactivity is highest among migrant females.

In our analysis of STW transitions, we do not consider part-timers as having successfully transited to employment, since temporary work may be associated with insufficient income and a lack of job permanency. Hence, we treated part-time employment as another indicator of vulnerability. The results show that migrant females are the least likely to be in full-time employment, regardless of their educational attainment.

Finally, we analysed occupations and wages as indicators of the quality of the school-to-work transitions of vulnerable groups. Our findings suggest that both females and migrants, but especially migrant females, are more likely to be disadvantaged. In addition, we observed that young females earn 25% less than the native males in all countries. Even if these groups have the ‘privilege of being employed’, their jobs tend to enjoy lower wages. It is likely that the low occupational scores of migrant women result from human capital issues (lack of language proficiency, unfamiliarity with the labour market of the receiving country), and systemic barriers that may not be intentionally discriminatory but whose end result is disadvantage (Rubin et al. 2008).

Policy implications

Our analysis of the policy environment shows that policy towards youth labour markets is often gender blind and that there is limited evidence of consistent gender mainstreaming. Given the gender gap and its interaction with migrant status identified in our mapping exercise, policies could be more efficient if they recognised gender differences – for example, school drop-out rates for boys, segregation of training opportunities for girls, and the interaction of gender and migrant status in educational choices. Although we find some evidence of good practice that recognises gender differences at the margins and indeed the intersectionality of youth, more could be done for gender and other forms of vulnerability.

There is a growing acceptance of gender mainstreaming, which aims at reversing the tendency to treat gender as a ‘specialist’ field of policy and advocates decentralising institutional responsibility for gender (Daly 2005). While this appears to be a positive development, critical scholars show the concept’s vagueness, divergent interpretations and implementations, and limited impact on gender equality. We suggest that greater consideration of the intersectionalities of gender with other demographic factors can help explain the segmentation of the youth labour market and understand the life-long repercussions for the risk of vulnerabilities.


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