Over the last few decades, there has been a radical transformation of Australia’s labour market and education sector, with intersecting implications for gender and generational inequalities. First, the composition of the labour force has changed. There has been both a significant increase in women’s participation in paid work and a steady decline in full-time youth employment. Primary industry and the manufacturing sectors, once reliant upon unskilled labour, have waned and there has been a countervailing growth in service industries that require professional, skilled workers. The new jobs have different conditions to the old. The contemporary labour market is increasingly characterised by precarious work, with jobs more likely to be casual, temporary, or short-term and workers to be freelance or self-employed. The changes have given rise to what is being termed ‘the gig economy’. The new way of organising economic activity reconfigures labour markets and encourages a new, digital form of entrepreneurship. However, especially in a flexible, deregulated economy like Australia it also exposes individuals to greater financial risks, social insecurities and inequalities. It is younger people who are driving and using this new form of economic activity the most, but who are also most vulnerable to such insecurities. The ‘gig economy era’ can be understood as an extension and continuation of the neoliberal forces which have created the ‘new precariat’ for whom insecure and non-standard employment has become the norm.
Second, in parallel, a minor revolution has taken place in the educational system. For decades, the aim of Australian educational policies was to close the gender gap and ensure women’s equal participation in education at all levels. This target has been reached and women’s educational attainment now outmatches men’s, including at the tertiary level. However, this does not translate into gender equity in the labour market. There are also gender disparities in graduate employment rates and status. Recent male graduates are more likely to be in full-time jobs than are recent women graduates, who are twice as likely as their male equivalents to be in part-time jobs. Career progression is slower for women than men, and female representation in senior management and on company boards is thin. The implication is that education does little to temper the perverse gender order of the labour market. Yet educating girls was hailed as the surest route to gender equality and economic security for women. The gap between that hope and current reality is wide.
We invite contributions from scholars that aim to shed light on the intersection of these two developments and the apparent resulting ‘broken promise’ of human capital theory- the belief of both individuals and governments that more education leads to a better future- for a special edition of the Journal of Sociology. This special edition will focus on the contemporary challenges for young people in general and young women in particular, posing questions about how this state of affairs has evolved, and the implications for gender and generational equity.
Guiding this special edition are two sets of interrelated questions. The first set of questions concern the labour market challenges for young people and the potential generational inequalities that the rise of insecure employment entails:
- How do young people envision their entrance into the labour market? Does their education prepare them for the jobs available to them?
- How do they perceive the possibilities and challenges of their own situation considering their educational experiences and investments?
- What are their aspirations and imagined futures?
- Which young people are most vulnerable in this new economy?
- Which pathways do they take after leaving the educational system?
- What is their experience of seeking and finding meaningful and/or ongoing work?
- How does their experience compare with previous cohorts of young people?
The second set of questions concern the challenges for young women specifically:
- What are the obstacles that arise for young women in the gig economy era?
- How are gendered inequalities reproduced or reconfigured in the current climate?
- How do these challenges look to young women from different class backgrounds?
- How does inequality in the labour market relate to other forms of gender inequality, for instance in the domestic sphere?
- What would help young women achieve the same returns to education as young men?
We seek contributions that examine or answer these questions within pre-existing or new sociological frameworks. Both theoretical and empirical papers are welcome.
Potential authors are asked to submit abstracts of up to 500 words by April 8 2018.
Abstracts should provide an outline of the proposed paper, including its empirical and theoretical basis.
Abstracts should be emailed to all three editors:
We expect to inform successful authors by the end of April 2018, with a provisional submission date for full papers of December 20 2018. The special issue will be published at the end of 2019.