One in two Greek women out of work due to job scarcity, low wages, or motherhood

The number of working women in Greece has risen slightly in recent years, from 42.6 percent of the work force in 1990 to 51.1 percent in 2003, although this includes those registered as unemployed. According to figures from the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), about 44 percent of women aged 15-64 were working in 2003. In Spain and Italy as well, less than half the population of working age women are employed, compared to 72.8 percent in Denmark and 68 percent in Scandinavia overall. In Greece, the underlying cause is unemployment as well as an unwillingness on the part of many Greek women to enter the work force. According to to H. Symeonidou, a researcher at the National Center for Social Research (EKKE), an earlier survey of women aged 15-49 showed that 20 percent of Greek women were against women working – an attitude that is unknown in many other European states. According to a more recent study by Focus, the main reason Greek women work is financial (82 percent). Only 12 percent work in order to have a career and 6 percent to maintain independence. At the same time, a considerable percentage of Greek women choose or are forced to resign when they become pregnant. The reason many women don’t want to work is chiefly because of the low wages and family obligations. According to Eurostat, women in Europe are paid an average 14 percent lower than men in the same position. In Greece, this is closer to 28 percent. Meanwhile, women bear the burden of caring for the family. «Our research has shown that to a great extent, women in Greece still bear the responsibility for housework and for raising children. With couples of a higher educational background, more women work and men have a more progressive attitude, although this does not translate into practical terms,» said Symeonidou. So it is not only low-paid women who leave their jobs but career women as well. «Women who leave their jobs to raise their children can’t go back to work because of the inflexibility of the labor market in Greece,» said Symeonidou. «This affects women’s financial independence as well as the demographic problem.» When family incomes are low, women can’t afford to have more than one or two children. Part-time work, which could provide a temporary solution to the problem, is almost an unknown concept in Greece, whereas in other countries, such as the Netherlands, it is the resort of 70 percent of women. Nor are there any mechanisms to assist mothers returning to the work force. There are twice as many unemployed women as there are men. According to GSEE researcher M. Katsetzoglou, «in less than a decade (1993-2000), there have been considerable changes regarding women’s educational levels, particularly among the more highly educated.» The greatest change (304 percent) was observed in a tiny category of women with postgraduate degrees. The number of university graduates increased by 150 percent, technical college graduates by 32 percent and high school graduates by 23 percent. Between 1990-2000, 237,000 new jobs were created, of which 187,000 (79 percent) were taken by women. This happened for two reasons. Firstly, because the higher a woman’s educational level, the more likely she is to find a job. Secondly, because the increase in the work force in recent years is almost exclusively due to the increase in jobs in the service sector, where women are in the majority; 61.5 percent of women are wage earners. Only 10 percent of Greek women are self-employed; the average for Europe is 20 percent and for the US, 30 percent. Rarely does one find a women in the higher echelons of the private or state sector in Greece. So Greek women may have entered the labor market, but their traditional homemaking role is still strong. «Work is a way of letting off steam and a source of satisfaction for women,» said A. Gavrilidou-Halimou, a family therapist. «Irrespective of whether a women needs to work for financial reasons, work adds to one’s identity, self-esteem and the way others see her.» These days, when a «thinking» woman stays at home, she often acquires emotional or psychological problems, such as depression, or becomes irritable with her children. The other family members see her as being obliged to be available to everyone at all times, as little more than a housekeeper.

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