Synopsis

Introduction

The Network's research agenda has been set against the background of a puzzle. With the demise of the male breadwinner family, there has been something of a 'paradigm shift' in gender relations. But will this shift bring more or less equality? Major labour market change, particularly in respect of women, together with dramatic changes in parenting and partnership, and greater recognition of gender equality issues in the policy arena, have served to break apart the traditional gender-role division. The expectation on the part of policy makers today is increasingly that women will be fully 'individualised' in the sense of economically autonomous, although policies are often ambiguous on this score. Social reality is more mixed; women are still disproportionately in part-time employment and still do the bulk of the unpaid care work.

Shifts in gender equality have been very uneven across ethnic groups, age, and geographical regions; and often far slower than many of the conventional theories of human capital would suggest. The gender 'wage gap' has proved stubborn and new pay inequalities between women are emerging. The life chances of women, men and children are increasingly polarized by educational attainment, but it is far from clear whether and under what circumstances a convergence in human capital will result in reductions in gender inequalities.

The Network faces many challenges. How to prevent gender being interpreted as "women"? How to ensure reproduction and production are each given due weight in developing theoretical constructs and empirical analyses of inequalities? How to provide an effective evidence base for policy makers? How to ensure that the research is sufficiently grounded in UK experience to have the depth required for understanding processes of change, while avoiding a parochialism that is clearly inappropriate in a global age? We are optimistic that these challenges will help spur us on to achieve real progress in furthering gender equality, an important and timely task.