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Gendered States

Gendered States: Women, Unemployment Insurance, and the Political Economy of the Welfare State in Canada, 1945-1997

Ann Porter
  • Book Info
    Gendered States
    Book Description:

    In the period since the Second World War there has been both a massive influx of women into the Canadian job market and substantive changes to the welfare state as early expansion gave way, by the 1970s, to a prolonged period of retrenchment and restructuring. Through a detailed historical account of the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program from 1945 to 1997, Ann Porter demonstrates how gender was central both to the construction of the post-war welfare state, as well as to its subsequent crisis and restructuring. Drawing on a wide range of sources (including archival material, UI administrative tribunal decisions, and documents from the government, labour and women's groups) she examines the implications of restructuring for women's equality, as well as how women's groups, labour and the state interacted in efforts to shape the policy agenda.

    Porter argues that, while the post-war welfare state model was based on a family with a single male breadwinner, the new model is one that assumes multiple family earners and encourages employability for both men and women. The result has been greater formal equality for women, but at the same time the restructuring and reduction of benefits have undermined these gains and made women's lives increasingly difficult. Using concepts from political economy, feminism, and public policy, this study will be of interest across a range of disciplines.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7521-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    In December 1995 one of the most sweeping overhauls ever to an income security program in Canada was announced. The unemployment insurance program was to be renamed ʹemployment insurance,ʹ its costs were to be reduced by $2 billion a year, and it was to be based on a new approach to the unemployed. The goal was to move from ʹpassiveʹ income support to an ʹactiveʹ labour market program, one that would reduce the disincentives to work that were said to be found within the program, reinforce the ʹvalue of work,ʹ and offer ʹunemployed Canadians the tools to lift themselves up...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Gender and the Political Economy of the Welfare State: Theoretical Considerations
    (pp. 13-30)

    This work aims to help further a feminist political economy. In an era when global economic restructuring is combining with neoliberal state initiatives to define so many of the conditions of womenʹs lives, a reconsideration of the ways that both state policies and capitalism have historically built on, and are structured around, different forms of oppression and inequality is particularly pressing. For this project it is important to draw not only on political-economy and early socialist feminist work, but also on the insights of more recent feminist analyses. These analyses have emphasized the importance of womenʹs struggles, of historical specificity,...

  6. PART I: Contradictions and Transformations in Families, Markets, and the Welfare State, 1940–1971

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 31-36)

      The welfare state established in the decades following the Second World War was not simply a ʹKeynesianʹ welfare state compatible with notions of state involvement in stimulating demand; it also had as a key characteristic that it was based on a family wage model. In the decades following the war, women were encouraged to return to the home and the cult of domesticity was at its height. The welfare state programs of the era were based on the assumption that men were the primary breadwinners and that women were dependants in the home. The reality for many was, of course,...

    • CHAPTER 2 Gender and the Construction of the Postwar Welfare State
      (pp. 37-61)

      The welfare state and economic regime established in Canada during the Second World War and in the immediate postwar period was fundamentally gendered. It was assumed that men would be the primary breadwinners, that women would look after the home front, and that the state would step in to provide for such contingencies as the temporary unemployment of the male breadwinner. It was based on a particular family–market–state arrangement whereby women performed certain types of labour in the home and did not perform certain types of work in the paid workforce. While there was considerable variation between women,...

    • CHAPTER 3 From Exclusion to Entitlement: Pregnancy, Maternity, and the Canadian State
      (pp. 62-91)

      Attitudes and policies with respect to pregnancy and maternity formed a key part of the construction of the postwar gendered labour market and welfare state regime. The ideology of domesticity involved not only the notion that men should be the primary breadwinners, but also that women during pregnancy and early childrearing should withdraw out of sight and into the private sphere of the home. These views very much influenced womenʹs access to UI income security. In the immediate postwar years, UI officials were reluctant to consider those who were visibly pregnant as available for work, and unemployed women who were...

    • CHAPTER 4 Women into the Labour Force, UI Review, and Expansion
      (pp. 92-116)

      The period from 1960 to the early 1970s was one of economic expansion, growing female employment, increased labour militancy, and a renewed mobilization for womenʹs rights. In the context of three minority governments, new welfare state programs were introduced. A series of UI program reviews culminated in the introduction in 1971 of the most comprehensive income security program to date.¹ The 1971 legislation was significant for women, not only because it introduced maternity benefits for the first time but also because the greatly extended coverage and lower qualifying conditions embodied in the provision for ʹregularʹ benefits meant that many more...

  7. PART II: On the Path to Neoliberalism:: Gender, Crisis, and Restructuring

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 117-122)

      As noted in chapter 4, by the early 1970s a substantially new regime involving a restructured family–market–state relationship had been established. Some of the tensions in the larger network of variables had been at least partially resolved. For example, state benefits allowed for higher standards of living, and many explicitly discriminatory provisions had been removed, which eased some of the legal/juridical contradictions noted earlier. Womenʹs labour force participation had grown, providing both more economic independence for women and increased family incomes. The new model, then, involved an expanded welfare state with modified family wage notions at its base...

    • CHAPTER 5 Social Reproduction in a Transition Period: Maternity, Rights, and Conceptions of Equality
      (pp. 123-148)

      As noted in chapter 3, the maternity provisions incorporated in the 1971 legislation contained contradictory features. For first time, working women had access to rights-based benefits around childbirth. This represented a significant expansion of the stateʹs responsibility for social reproduction and helped establish a new family–market–state relationship in which women were recognized as both workers and mothers. At the same time, however, the inclusion of maternity as part of the insurance-based UI program meant that concerns about abuses, about a possible drain on the fund, and about women meeting criteria that had been established with ʹregularʹ workers in...

    • CHAPTER 6 Gender, Economic Crisis, and Welfare State Restructuring in the 1970s
      (pp. 149-178)

      The events of the 1970s were pivotal in shaping the direction of welfare state and economic policy for the next quarter-century. The unprecedented mobilization for womenʹs rights described earlier, which partly involved pressure to alter both maternity provisions and conceptions of pregnancy, took place within the context of a growing economic crisis and the beginning of overall welfare state retrenchment. Indeed, the movement for greater gender equality and the pressures to restructure the welfare state model had overlapping roots. The social and economic forces that were propelling women into the labour force – economic changes leading to greater financial pressures...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Conservatives in Power: A Polarized Debate and the Shift to a Market-Based Approach
      (pp. 179-210)

      Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s there was a sharp polarization over the questions of unemployment, income security, and how to respond to the emerging contradictions in the welfare state and the economy. The 1980s opened with the return of the Liberals to power. There was some attempt to restrain the power of business, as seen in Finance Minister Alan MacEachenʹs 1981 budget, but this was quickly abandoned in the face of business opposition. With the defeat of this budget, and despite record high levels of unemployment, the Liberals shifted ground, clearly accepting the priorities of deficit reduction, increased...

    • CHAPTER 8 Consolidating Neoliberal Reforms: Globalization, Multi-Earner Families, and the Erosion of State Support for the Unemployed
      (pp. 211-230)

      The reforms initiated by the Conservative government at the beginning of the 1990s were continued and deepened under the Liberals, elected in 1993. Indeed, it was under the Liberal government that the most farreaching restructuring of the federal welfare state took place. By the end of the decade a new neoliberal welfare state had been consolidated and a new form of family–workplace–state arrangement had been established. Shortly after the Liberals came to power, an extensive review of federal social security programs took place under the direction of Human Resources Development Minister Lloyd Axworthy. By the mid-1990s, however, the...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 231-242)

    This book has presented a number of interrelated arguments. First, at a theoretical level it has emphasized the centrality of gender to an understanding of the political economy of the welfare state. Second, more concretely, it has pointed to the ways that gender has been implicated in the formation and restructuring of welfare state regimes. Gender constituted a vital element in the construction of the postwar welfare state, in the tensions and pressures for change within that regime, and in the neoliberal form eventually taken by welfare state restructuring. Third, this book has examined the concrete implications of UI restructuring...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 243-316)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 317-340)
  11. Index
    (pp. 341-356)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 357-370)