Status of Women

Austria Table of Contents

A patriarchal family structure based on a traditional genderspecific division of labor characterizes attitudes toward marriage and family. By the early 1990s, however, a greater emphasis on marriage as a partnership had become more common among the younger generation, especially among the urban middle class. A 1976 law establishes the principle of equal rights and duties for married men and women, as well as equal rights and responsibilities for caring for children.

The Equal Treatment Law of 1979 makes various forms of discrimination against women illegal. Amended a number of times since it was first passed, the law seeks to establish equal rights for women, especially in the workplace. It posits, for example, the principle of equal pay for equal qualifications and sets up commissions for the arbitration of complaints and violations related to pay, promotion, and sexual discrimination and harassment. The Women's Omnibus Law, which went into effect in 1993, is a further measure to reduce discrimination against women. One of the its goals is increasing the employment of women in government agencies in which they make up less than 40 percent of the staff. The law also directs that women who have been denied promotions because of their gender or have suffered sexual harassment receive compensation.

The Austrian concept of "equal treatment" differs substantially from the United States idea of "equal rights." Austrian legislation not only aims at establishing equality in realms where there is discrimination against women, but it also attempts to provide women with additional benefits related to the inequities inherent in the gender-specific division of labor. Thus, it tries to establish benefits to compensate for "unpaid work" in the household, the dual burden of employment and childrearing many women bear, and single parenting. In other words, "equal treatment" involves interpreting equality literally in some spheres and attempting to compensate for the gender-specific inequality of burdens in others.

Despite the improvement of the legal position of women in Austria since the mid-1970s, traditional role models prevail. Whether women are employed outside the home or not, many Austrian men consider the great majority of housework and child-rearing tasks to be "women's work." For example, 80 percent of the married women surveyed at the end of the 1980s were solely responsible for laundry, 66 percent for cooking, and 51 percent for cleaning. Almost 20 percent of Austrian men do no household tasks. However, 75 percent of married men assume responsibility for shopping and other activities outside the home, a reflection of the division of labor in the traditional family between work inside and outside the home.

Although education is the primary determinant of income in Austria, a person's gender also plays a role. At the end of the 1980s, the average monthly net income for an employed woman was S12,858, or S11,161 for a blue-collar worker and S14,790 for a white-collar employee. The average monthly net income for an employed man was S19,175, or S17,522 for a blue-collar worker and S24,734 for a whitecollar employee. The pay differentials between men and women are lowest for those employed as civil servants (8 percent), compared with the private sector, where a range of 20 to 40 percent for blue-collar workers and white-collar employees prevails. Although sex discrimination is responsible for some of the male-female salary differentials, men traditionally are better trained than women. More women in the labor force are unskilled workers than are men: 38 percent of women versus; 25 percent for men. Additional vocational training is much more common among men than among women: 50 percent for men versus 28 percent for women.

Highly educated women are more likely to be employed than those with less education. Around 84 percent of women between the ages of thirty and fifty-five having university degrees are employed, compared with only 53 percent of women who have been in school for only the required nine years. The number of men and women in the labor force who have completed secondary or university educations is approximately the same: 10 and 7 percent, respectively. Nevertheless, equal qualifications among men and women are not a guarantee of equal advancement in professions. For example, at the end of the 1980s only 16 percent of women having university or advanced degrees held leading positions as salaried employees or civil servants. Thus, despite the improvement of the legal status of women, the income differential between men and women has not decreased considerably since the early 1980s, and the implementation of equal rights legislation has proved difficult in practice.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress