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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Better than breadlines: female university graduates in the secondary external market of the labour force Simpson, Beth Michaela


Studies on non-standard labour have focused on unskilled and semi-skilled workers. This study examines female university graduates employed as non-standard labour, specifically those who are employed in the secondary external market. The study was primarily informed by a political economy perspective. In addition, labour segmentation theory was used as a model of the labour force. Feminist theory directed the methodology of the research. Human capital theory was also drawn upon to explore the relationship between education and employment. The purpose of the study was to (1) examine whether the transformations that the labour force is currently undergoing have resulted in a blurring of the distinctions between the different sectors of the labour market; (2) determine whether higher levels of human capital protect women from the vagaries of the secondary sector of the labour force; and (3) determine whether the secondary sector is undergoing change. In addition, I wished to examine the subjective experience, material conditions, and career trajectories of female university graduates in the secondary external market. The study uses both quantitative and qualitative data with the main body of the research resting on in-depth interviews of twenty women in non-standard employment, methods. The sources of the quantitative data were two extensive surveys conducted in the late 1980s: The General Social Survey - Cycle 4: Education and Work (Statistics Canada, 1989) and the Follow-up of 1982 Graduates Survey (Statistics Canada, 1989). The survey data were used to give a broad, general picture of the female university graduates in the secondary external market. Qualitative data were collected in 1993-94, using intensive interviews of 20 female university graduates employed in the secondary external market. These women were accessed through snow-ball sampling methods. Two additional women, lacking university degrees, were also interviewed and are included separately from the female university graduates, since their experience addresses issues of ageism. The survey data reveal that more than one in ten female university graduates have temporary work, though more than 60 percent of these women would prefer permanent employment. Although the majority of these women are married, most (over 60 percent) do not have dependent children. On average, these women earn one third less annually than permanently employed female university graduates. Less than half receive any employee benefits as part of their compensation package. Interview data reveal that opinions about employment in the secondary external market (as fixed-term contract workers) are affected by the respondent's perceptions of her own financial security. Most would prefer permanent employment because of the financial security, predictability, and opportunities for career advancement. The material conditions for most of the respondents were worse than their permanently employed counterparts. Issues surrounding gender roles and levels of human capital were implicated in increasingly the likelihood of employment in the secondary sector.

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