Behind the counter. Female inroads, obstacles and careers in the Swedish commercial bank sector, 1885-1937
Sammanfattning: This study investigates the feminisation of the Swedish commercial bank sector between 1885 and 1937, during which time the female labour share increased from 10 to 27 per cent. More specifically, it is examined why the banks hired women, and why they did not hire women to an even greater extent. The study employs a queue-theoretical framework, and a micro-level panel database constructed from the previously unexplored Swedish bank matriculation registers; full records of all white-collar staff in all Swedish bank firms, issued with approximately five-year intervals from 1885 onwards, circa 43,000 employee-year observations. The study identifies changes in the character of bank work, which increased its congruence with what had traditionally been considered ”women’s work, as the key cause of the sustained employment of women, by removing social obstacles to female recruitment allowing the lower cost of female labour to come into play, and reducing the relative attractivness of bank work in the eyes of traditional upper-middle class male labour, lowering its resistance to feminisation. As banks found it increasingly difficult to attract their preferred-type of male labour, sex trumped class as upper-class women were preferred over working class men, which can be related to the banks’ high status and need to inspire confidence in the public. In the background of these factors, labour demand was also an important determinant of the feminisation pattern of the commercial bank sector, particularly its slow pace. Because social norms made the active substitution of men for women very costly, female advances were dependent on growth- and turnover of labour. As labour demand waned, so did the pace of feminisation.
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