The impact of elderly parents on labour market participation of italian women
The importance of the participation of women in the labour market and source of policy-marking interest in the subject can be considered from various points of view. First, a higher average degree of female education, and the changing of cultural models regarding the division of roles within the family, have resulted in a higher preference by women for work on the market. Second, interest in this issue also aries from the deep changes that have occured, and still occur, within the family structure: the older age at which families are started and the rise of divorce and separation contribute to the spreading of families headed by single women, who cannot rely on a spouse for economic support. Finally, the rise of female employment is vitally important for the sustainability of social protection system, in a context defined by the fast and relevant ageing of the population and by the widespread reduction in fertility rates. The latter phenomenon is extrremely relevant in Italy, where the fertility rate is one of the lowest among OECD countries. According to forecasts, by 2020 the eldeerly dependency index - i.e. the ratio of population above age 64 to the working age population (age rank 15-64) - will surpass 30% (Visco,2000). The low fertility rate implies the impossibility of increasing labour supply through demographic dynamics; an increase in female labour force becomes, therefore, a fundamental tool for the overall growth of employment. The increse in female employment is an important goal also at Eurpean level: briding the gap between the female employment rates in the EU and the USA would increase the number of employed women in Europe by 21 milion (European Commission, 2000), and Eurpean policy makers believe that the EU "must set itself the goal of restoring full employment as the key objective of economic and social policy" (European Commission, 2000). In light of this, the Lisbon strategy states that the female employment rate in the European Union should reach 60% by 2010, up from 51% now. Meeting this goal is an especially difficult task for Italy, where the female employment rate in 2001 was 41.6%. The participation rate was also much lower than 60% - in the same year it was at 48% - indicating how distant the Lisbon target is, even in the absence of unemployment. Indeed, in Italy women employment is low not only because female unemployment rate is high, but also because partecipation rate is small; the latter can be seen as an indication of "volontary" non-employment. Therefore, the partecipation rate is the first issue to address if the goal is to increase female employment. Figure 1 shows the female employment, unemployment and partecipation rates in Italy and in the European Union from 1979 to 2001. From the graph one can infer two especially interesting phenomena. First, there is a marked increase in the rates of female employment and partecipation both in Italy and the EU, while the ratio of unemployed women to working age female population and the unemployment rate do not vary greatly. This suggest that the better employment performance of women over the last 20 years is largely tied to a shifting of preference towards jobs on the market, rather than better demand conditions
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