Marxist theory, which originated from the works of 19th century German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, analyses the impact of the capitalist system on the segregation of the labour force.Marxist theory argues that women comprise a ‘reserve army of labour’ (Bruegal 1979). They argue that women can enter into paid jobs when there is shortage of men, but they are also expected to leave when their services are no longer required. Marxist theorists question the conventional notion of creating surplus value by demonstrating how gender inequalities are exploited by capitalists to achieve their greater economic advantage (Lockwood 1986).
According to Marxist theory, conflict between labour and capital is the main cause for inequality of labour in contemporary work places (Wright 1989, Braverman 1974)
Marxist theory has also been criticised because of its supposed neglect of childcare. According to Chodorow (1994), childcare and mothering are integrated with women’s work life in industrialised countries. Chodorow argues that women all over the world are mainly responsible for childcare. Capitalist system has been largely ineffective in providing new ways of enabling parents to combine childcare with employment. Chodorow suggests that radical political feminist theory addresses the issue of childcare and women’s employment whereas Marxist theory alone cannot deal with effective proposals for the reorganisation of parenting, employment and childcare.
Furthermore, Marxist perspective of gender segregation seems to have a limited relevance and applicability within non-capitalistic societies such as the Islamic society. Islamic countries today such as Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, represent a society, which may be described as a blend of three major socio-economic systems (i.e. Islamic values, capitalistic market structures, and socialistic preferences). Interest free banking is an example offered by some banks in Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Islamic values’ system prohibits ‘Riba’ (interest on the ‘idle’ wealth) and instead promotes the Islamic institution of ‘Zakat’, forcing the rich to share a portion of their wealth with the needy and the destitute. The Marxist critique on gender segregation may perhaps not be attributed to class and capitalistic structures in Islamic society. Yet, the role of patriarchy and its ‘collusion’ with local feudal structures cannot be denied in maintaining and perpetuating the female disadvantage within societal and employment contexts (Syed, Ali and Winstanley 2005).
Neo-classical economists suggest that a worker’s education, training and natural capability determine the rewards they get from their job. They argue that organisations base their recruitment decisions on the market value of each individual’s human capital. This school of thought is known as human capital theory. Human capital theorists explain the position of women in paid jobs in terms of their lesser human capital, arguing that women have reached fewer skills and qualifications and lesser labour market experience than men (Mincer J, 1962; Bardley H, 1989). They argue that because of traditional gender division of labour involving women’s engagement with house chores and rearing children, women tend to possess inferior skills (i.e. human capital) compared to men. The human capital gap widens as men spend more time in paid jobs.
Other scholars (such as Mincer 1962) argue that domestic work is similar to paid work and women voluntarily choose to work at home. Some argue that women choose occupations involving lesser skills and greater flexibility so that they are least penalised for their irregular pattern of work (Polachek 1976, 1981). According to this perspective, human capital decreases when the worker is out of the labour market for some time, which results in low wages on re-entry after maternity leave. Women workers try to enter occupations which are usually low paid where the evidence of human capital decline is less observable. However, Polachek’s approach has some empirical difficulties. For example, England (1984) found that although there was a decline in women’s earnings resulting from their temporary exit from the labour force, this did not suggest large differences between male and female occupations.