Migrant Workers or Working Women? Comparing Labour Supply Policies in Post-War Europe

Forthcoming in Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis (access article)


Why did some European countries choose migrant labour to expand their labour force in the decades that followed World War II, while others opted for measures to expand female employment via welfare expansion? The paper argues that gender norms and left power resources were important structuring factors in these choices. Female employment required a substantial expansion of state intervention (e.g childcare; paid maternity leave). Meanwhile, migrant recruitment required minimal public investments, at least in the short term, and preserved traditional gender roles. Using the contrasting cases of Sweden and Switzerland, I argue that the combination of a weak left (labour unions and social-democratic parties) and conservative gender norms fostered the massive expansion of foreign labour and a late development of female labour force participation in Switzerland. In contrast, more progressive gender norms and a strong labour movement put an early end to guest worker programs in Sweden, and paved the way for policies to promote female labour force participation.

Keywords: labour migration; female employment; Sweden; Switzerland; comparative public policy

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