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Changing Roles 2005



Following editions in 1997, 1999 and 2001, this, our fourth collection of studies, presents and tracks changes in the social position of women and men in Hungary. The editors have sought to put gender differences and similarities, and a comparison between practices in Hungary and other EU countries, in the focus of the studies on society, the economy, family and public life. Our selection of studies also offers insights into the systematic and empirical research conducted in this field since the previous issue was published in 2001.

The first section here deals with questions of the activity of women and men in the labour market and in public life. The participation of men in employment—in most European countries, as well as in Hungary—has traditionally been higher than that of women. The gender gap in employment rates has declined in recent years, but differences in economic activity according to age persist. For women, a key factor influencing labour market chances is the number and age of their children. Accordingly, those aged 40–49 make up the most active age group. Employment segregation has declined somewhat in the past twenty years, and the share of women in non-manual jobs has further increased. Educational attainment levels have a greater impact on the labour market chances of women than of men. While there is virtually no difference in the labour market chances between men with secondary school leaving certificates (‘érettségi’) and those with higher levels of education, in the case of women schooling does have a linear and positive impact on employment, reducing the risk of job loss.

Has there been a change in the presence of women in leading business positions, and if so, to what extent? The second study in this volume finds that, while the proportion of women in managerial positions is steadily increasing, we still see no real breakthrough for them into senior corporate positions. International research shows that the pyramid structure is typical not only of Hungary, but of most other countries, too. As a result, women typically advance only to middle management positions, and are scarcely to be found in senior management. Responses to attitude questions reveal that, paradoxically, it is women themselves that block social acceptance, by preferring male managers to female ones.

A key priority of EU efforts is to ensure equal opportunities for women and to promote the political and public participation of women. The comparative data presented in the study on this topic prove that Hungary lags behind not only in terms of women’s equality and other women’s rights issues, but also regarding women’s participation in public life.

The second section in the book deals with the family: family formation, relationships within the family, and the conflicts and value systems related to the roles and tasks within the family.

Data from an empirical study covering many European countries show that in spite—or actually because—of the fact that the mass participation of women in the labour market began much earlier in the former socialist countries than in Western Europe, the approach to the roles of men and women is much more conservative in the former socialist countries, and that the social status and importance of paid employment is much lower. With its traditional values set, Hungarian society stands out even among Eastern European countries in terms of its approach both to gender equality and to resolving the conflict between work and family responsibilities.

In recent decades, significant changes have occurred across Europe in the fields of family formation and child-bearing. Key features of the changes include a fall in marriage rates, the rapid and significant spread of forms of non-marital relationships, a reduction in the stability of partnerships, a drop in child-bearing, and a marked increase in the rate of people living alone and of single people with children. In tackling these demographic changes, the author of the fifth paper focuses on the former socialist countries in an international context, and attempts to uncover whether we are experiencing a definitive change in demographic behaviour, or are facing only a transitional situation, in which the decision to get married and have children is postponed, but will eventually be made.

The next study looks at the characteristics of relationship systems between teenagers and their parents. The picture obtained from empirical research is not too positive. Parents often do not discuss problems or difficulties that their 15–20 year-old children may have as they enter adulthood. Parents very rarely consider their children as emotional support; and indeed parents, rather than discussing problems or difficulties with each other, often turn to other people for help. The picture is equally negative when we look at ways of spending free time. Young people barely mention spending any of their free time with their parents, and only about one quarter of parents said that they spend free time together with their spouses or partners.

The third section of our book deals with poverty and some other topical social problems. The paper on Europe’s demographic situation reveals that, while the problems of populations in various countries are quite similar, it is impossible to create a common European social policy in the short or medium term because of differences in institutional systems. The fight against poverty and social exclusion is so high on the European agenda that it calls for joint efforts and an indicator-based monitoring of the process. The paper on this issue has this key finding: no significant difference exists between the poverty risk of women and men. The risk of poverty of European women is somewhat greater than that of men, but the situation facing women living in poverty is less grave than that of men living below the poverty line. However, the situation of older women, those over 65, is much worse in many countries than the situation of men. Due to different gender life expectancies, there is a significantly higher proportion of women among pensioners, and therefore transfer values incorporating pensions protect women against poverty to a greater extent than they do men. It is a known fact that single mothers are at a higher risk of poverty, but this is mainly attributable to their labour market situation.

The study on the link between Roma women’s fertility and their chances of integration challenges the notion that unfavourable labour market conditions have the effect of increasing the number of children, and draws a more subtle picture. High fertility rates and child-bearing at a very early age are typical of the eastern region of Hungary. This makes it difficult, and indeed often impossible, for most Roma women to realistically consider continuing in education or getting a job, even if new education policies or better labour market opportunities make these options available. Experience in Budapest shows that improved education opportunities can significantly reduce the rate of Roma women having children in their teens, and that better labour market chances result in a relatively rapid change in the demographic behaviour of adult Roma women.

The study on social genders in international migration presents a new approach both in the Hungarian and the international scientific literature. Migration in previous periods mainly meant men’s cross-border movement in search of work. Today, however, it is becoming increasingly frequent for women to make their own decisions to migrate in search of employment for themselves. Using an empirical survey of the population, the author reviews the changes over time in the gender profiles of migrants arriving in Hungary, as well as some of their basic characteristics. The 2:1 ratio between male and female migrants at the end of the 1980s had more or less equalized by 2002. Among its other findings, the study reveals that the well-known trend for women to migrate mainly for family-related reasons, and for men to be motivated to migrate primarily for economic reasons, holds true in the case of people migrating to Hungary, although gender differences in migration objectives are gradually diminishing. However, migrant men arriving in Hungary continue to give economic reasons, political and general security as the main factors for moving. While economic motivation is not negligible among women either, family unification and starting a family continue to be stronger reasons for them.

The tenth study in the book looks at men’s and women’s morbidity and mortality. Life expectancy, as a general indicator of mortality, is significantly higher for women across Europe. However, the extra years women enjoy appear to have reduced significantly in recent years, as the gap between the life expectancies of men and women narrows. This reduction in the difference between average life expectancies, once significant, is most probably attributable to fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease among men living in the most disadvantageous social conditions. By analysing the relationship between educational attainment levels and health, the author underlines the highly unfavourable situation of women with very little education, and the high probability they face of developing diseases that will limit them in performing their daily activities.

The penultimate study addresses one of the most pressing social issues of our times: drug consumption. Examination of the gender differences in smoking, alcohol consumption and the consumption of other drugs shows that gender differences in the consumption patterns of young people are steadily decreasing. In the year under review (2003), more girls than boys were regular smokers, while the patterns of alcohol consumption, and even the ways of getting drunk, are almost the same. The ratio of girls trying out banned substances is nearing that of boys, and the increase in drug abuse witnessed over the past few years is almost exclusively attributable to the surge in consumption by girls. In the drug consumption patterns of the adult population—by contrast with young people—there are still strong gender differences.

The last paper deals with gender equality in an international context. The study, which was prepared on the basis of the latest report of the World Economic Forum, compares and ranks equal opportunities between men and women in 58 countries, across five dimensions: employment, economic opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment, health and welfare. Northern European countries top this ranking: equal opportunities between genders are strongest there. The former socialist countries, with a few exceptions, are in the top half of the list, including Hungary in 24th place. At the bottom of the list are Islamic countries, including Turkey and Egypt.

Besides the studies, our book includes bibliography of gender-related publications between 2001 and 2004 that are relevant to Hungary. We have also attached an updated version of the register of researchers, which has featured in previous editions.

The Hungarian version of this book was sponsored by the Ministry of Youth, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. This English version has enjoyed the generous support of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), Bratislava. The editors are especially grateful to Osnat Lubrani, the UNIFEM Regional Programme Director for Central and Eastern Europe, for her support.

The editors hope that not only professionals, but also the general public who have an interest in social issues will find new and interesting studies, findings and information in this book.

Budapest, January 2006
The editors

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