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Women as the Reserve Army of Labour


Reserve army of labour is a part of labour force that is kept in reserve to be entitled to work when they are needed or when they are able to work. If such people were not there it would be difficult to open new companies to undertake crisis projects. Karl Marx referred these people as the unemployed in the capitalist society. Throughout the World War II, women were brought into the labor force and later released when men returned. As a result, women are deemed to be the reserve army of labour because were traditionally considered unproductive in the job market.

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In 1950 and 1975, The US labour force had a great change, civilian women who were 16 years and above, and were in the labour force increased from 34 to 46 percent. Today there is 40% increase of women in all workers as compared to 30% in 1950 (Becker, 2006). Therefore, this paper sheds light on participation of women on labour force and unemployment in the perspective of the subject of Reserve army of labour.


Inequalities of salary payment between men and women are greatly increasing in spite of the women making tremendous contributions to the economy. Women’s contributions are not rated as men’s. The reason why women are underpaid is because of job segregation. The types of work that most women do such as secretarial, cloth knitting, and childcare, pay less as compared to those of men. Men are involved in high paying jobs such as construction, sales people and operate heavy machinery (Anderson & Evans, 2004).

Sometimes, women are involved in low paying jobs which offer few opportunities for progressing – women take vulnerable jobs especially in Africa and Asia. The reason why women are segregated is because some do not have access to higher education. Today, many men are graduating as compared to the number of women found in the public universities. Furthermore, Buchman, Kriesi and Sacchi (2010) argue that women are less likely to study on part time basis as compared to men because they have many household tasks, especially in less industrialized countries.

Additionally, in horizontal segregation, jobs are differentiated by the particular characteristics of people doing these jobs. In many organizations, it is believed that women are best suited in service and nurturing jobs as compared to men who are believed to be better in technical tasks which demands physical labour. Many employers believe that men are competent and able than women. Horizontal segregation centers on sex of an employee and sometimes on the race, disability and age.

Similarly, in vertical segregation, employees are distinguished by different levels in an organization: the strategic level is controlled by men while women take the operational level of management. In this case, men take the higher roles such as managers and supervisors while women participate in clerical and secretarial jobs. Vertical segregation can also be determined by age, in which employees above 40 take the management level and those under 35 years of age take lower levels. It can also be determined by social class and at times it is determined by race where the management team has whites and the other levels being taken by blacks (Ferrante, 2010). Thus, women are less likely to be promoted even in jobs that have better promotion opportunities. Social biases make women to stay at the lower level. Working hours are other constraints that favour men than women, especially when the job involves long hours and regular traveling (Anderson & Evans, 2004).

Furthermore, domestic changes like child care cause women to quit jobs, whereas men proceed with their work. Women give up their careers to devote time to their small children or the family as a whole. Pregnancy and pre-school going children make women to quit jobs, especially if they do not have a baby-sitter or a care-giver. Women may develop pregnancy complications while working and in some cases may be confined in hospitals until child birth. Butler (2002) concurs that sometimes women quit to join their husbands due to mandatory transfers. Likewise, in religious beliefs like in Muslims, or when one converts into Islamic in countries like Saudi Arabia, a woman is supposed to remain at home while men go to work.

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Comparison of Theories of Reserve Army of Labour


Marx’s theory of classes is based on the knowledge that each class in the society gives social surplus product which takes in three forms: straight unpaid surplus, slave mode product and unpaid production. Marx’s surplus value is based on classes of income. According to Maxist, nationalism determines economic power of countries. He views ethnicity as a tool to divide the labour market. He also says that racism is used to discriminate a group from another and that countries like European nations have controlled and exploited poorer nations. Young and energetic people move from their poor countries to go and give cheaper labour to wealthy countries. Capitalists exploit migrant workers because they consider them as racially inferior. Neo-Marxism focuses on social class and the society. He has also considered women as less privileged in the labour market due to inferior working positions and thus, they remain as the reserve army of labour (Harris & Cromptom, 2001).

Norris and Barrow

In contrast, Norris’s theory compares the various economies exports and the differences in unit labour costs and the values of different countries’ currencies. He argues that government debts are leading to unemployment in many countries due to government spending. Likewise, Barrow’s theory surveys the radical perspectives of the state in a modern way. Barrow compares hypothesis of Marxist, neo and post Marxist using five distinct approaches, which includes derivation, system analyzing, instrumentalist, structures and organizational (Becker, 2006).


Hartman’s theory analyzes gender and labour in working women. He believes that the society is the determinant of the behaviors of women in society, labour and family life. Hartmann also argues that the social class between women and the working hierarchy puts men on the top and hence, they dominate women. The men control women’s labour power both at home and in the work place. Male exploitation of women comes both in domestic labour and labour wage.


Harris & Crompton (2001) affirms that Walby’s theory suggests that gender differences are found in every area of life which are found in domestic work and paid work. She says that male dominance have shifted from domestic to public and male control structures has been built in the society, especially the rules and practices that are followed by the working spheres of politics and work. She also emphasizes that the class theory of Marxist is unable to address the gender pay gap, segregation of gender and lower employment rates in women.


Hakim’s theory emphasizes that women have different lifestyle preferences, and stresses on women’s freedom in choosing their work and domestic roles. There are three types of women with different view about work: there are those who prefer to stay at home, those who are working and childless and are committed to their careers, and those who work but do not pay attention to their careers. She argues that women who have been involved in work for a long time will have good attitudes towards work as compared to those who have concentrated on domestic work.

According to Hakim, women who are work-centered and sometimes are usually childless are not negatively affected by child care as compared to those at home. Women who work for a short time and then stop shows lack of career commitment right from the start.

Crompton and Walkson

Crompton’s Theory focuses on marketing concepts because of the people who feel comfortable being out on a field rather than in a meeting. In Walkson’s theory figures are used to determine the labour force.

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In Parsons’ theory, professional decisions are made when women understand their individual traits like interests and abilities, when they have knowledge of jobs and the labour market, and when people are able to judge their individual traits and those of the labour market. Parson believes that personal counsel and evaluation is the key to the career chosen. He puts emphasis on career counseling to match their abilities, but they should also be prepared for dynamic labour markets.


Hakim (2000) argues that McDowell’s theory is focused on virtue and multivocality. This means that a person should strive to be ideal and the things to do to be ideal. However, this theory has a set back because when people recognize they are less than the ideal agents, they cannot look for the ideal for moral aspirations support. People tend to emulate the non-virtuous agent rather than the virtuous agent. His theory also focuses on the mind and the world.


In Cockburn’s theory, there is need to think about why people came to their occupations, especially women and when and why they join unions. He also emphasizes on being gender neutral rather than being gender sightless as compared to neo-Marxist, which concentrates in labour relation without concentrating on gender division and impact on employment patterns.

From the mentioned explanations, Marx’s theory of alienation is to outline the human activities that drive the dominating society. These are human actions that are independent of people in the society. Marx explains how human activities determine the future and how the past influenced the current world. He says that human beings lives are shaped and determined by the societies they live. According to him, alienation is deep rooted in material world which means loss of management over labour. He also believes that constant human nature is unstable in many communities and that the need to labour for survival is the only common feature in all societies. He compares animals nature being repetitive and that of human being dynamic, growing and having transformations. People’s ability to work puts them in classes in the society and some take control over the labour of others and hence the alienation of labour begins from the class culture.

McRae (2003) concurs that Marxism theory makes us to understand women’s oppression in the work place. It has been argued that women will continue to be reserves of labour. He gives detailed information on how women will continue to be reserves of labour as compared to other theories. However, this theory is being challenged because many women today are participating in the labour force and hence this theory needs adjustments. Marks explain that women are more vulnerable than men in the workforce. Struggles of women are widely known in history and it continues even today. The development of capital growth is affecting women’s employment chances.


Different sectors of human welfare sectors should consider women and evaluate the limits that hinder them from participating into the labour market. This paper has analyzed the extent in which women are considered the reserve army of labour. Women are discriminated in different areas, including job placement, and rewards from better performance. In this regard, Marx’s theory of reserve army of labour, which focuses on social class, does not entirely place women as the unemployed, but other explanations outline the different factors that determine the nature of women involvement in the job market; thus, to some extent, women in 21st century are the reserve army of labour. Therefore, there is a need to consider women in the workforce and give them equal opportunities in all the organizational levels to narrow the gap between the two genders.


Anderson, R. and Evans, G., 2004. Tackling Segregation fact Sheet. Women and Equality Unit. Indiana: Indiana University Press,

Becker, G. S., 2006. A treatise on the family (enl. ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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Buchmann, M. C., Kriesi, I. and Sacchi, S., (2010). Labor Market Structures and Women’s Employment Levels. SAGE Journals, 2010(24), pp 487-507.

Ferrante, J., 2010. Sociology: A Global Perspective. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Harris, F. and Crompton, R., 2001. Attitudes, Women’s Employment, and the Changing Domestic Division of Labour. A Cross –National Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hakim, C., 2000. Work Lifestyle Choices in the 21st Century: New York: Oxford University Press.

McRae, S., 2003. Constraints and choices in mothers’ employment careers: A consideration of Hakim’s Preference Theory. British Journal of sociology, 20(7), pp 34-42.

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