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4. Conflicting demands of new technology and household work
The restructuring of the textiles industry: Technology and new organizational models
Technology-induced job losses
Technical change and labour use
Vocational training and retraining patterns for textiles: Implications for women
The work environment in textiles
Textile workers' households3
Women workers' perceptions and voices
Women's work in Brazilian and Argentinian textiles
It is not enough to rely on the development process itself to diminish male bias. The development process acts in multifarious ways on male bias: reinforcing some forms of the subordination of women, decomposing other forms and recomposing yet new forms.
Diane Elson (1991, p. 25)
The introduction of information technology in the developing world is markedly changing the pattern of female employment even in a so-called 'traditional' industry such as textiles. This essay documents the way such changes have affected the working and domestic lives of blue collar women employees in the textiles industries of Argentina and Brazil since the early 1980s, when computer technology was first incorporated in the sector in these countries. I undertook most of the fieldwork between 1984 and 1986, and supplemented the original findings by further desk and field research in 1992. The initial empirical study was undertaken in collaboration with several colleagues in Argentina and Brazil. In evaluating the effects of technology I took into account the broader social and economic changes; especially those arising out of the opening up of the market to the international economy, and of structural adjustment in both countries.
The key questions relating to the workplace of women that I have addressed are:
Where have women been, and where will they be, in the industry in the future?
How is technology related to the flexibilization of working patterns?
Are new opportunities, in which female labour is actually preferred, arising?
What would these require in terms of skills and training patterns'?
What differences and similarities can be detected between the two countries?
Are the new jobs and work environments safer and healthier for women?
In the context of technological changes, these issues assume a certain urgency. Most studies have explained the increased participation of women in the labour market of these two countries1 in terms of survival strategies in the current economic crisis rather than as women workers' response to new skill requirements arising out of the industrial application of information technologies. Even those studies that focus on technological changes have, with some notable exceptions, largely disregarded the possibility of a differential impact on men and women (Humphrey, 1989; Hirata, 1988). But there is ample documentation of the ways these technologies are being incorporated in production and service occupations in both countries (Schmitz and Cassiolatto, 1992). As a rule, either digital automation or new management techniques, or both combined in 'a systemic strategy of modernization', to borrow a phrase from Fleury (1988), are increasingly being introduced at strategic points in the production process in varied economic sectors and branches. Companies are automating not only to save labour costs but also to obtain higher efficiency, speed, and flexibility in order to respond to fluctuating demand and to meet international quality standards.
There is now some agreement that new technologies affect labour use in textiles, as in other manufacturing sectors, by reducing the number of workers in each production unit. There is less consensus as to how they change the nature of work, of women and men employees. There are generally two contrasting theses about the current and future impact of new technology on the quality of work:
1 the 'postindustrial thesis', in which automation is seen as liberating workers from routine tasks and producing a skilled, stable, well-paid, committed and autonomous labour force (Touraine, 1962; Davis and Taylor, 1972);
2 the 'degradation of work thesis', in which innovation is seen as designed to reduce skill requirements and transform work activities into repetitive routines, so that labour becomes cheap and easy to substitute (Braverman, 1974).
More recent findings from the study of specific branches and occupations affected by digital automation (such as microelectronics-based equipment, numerically-controlled machine tools, computer-aided design and manufacturing, robotics, programmable controllers) in various Latin American countries show that digital automation tends to affect the nature of work in specific ways. These can be most effectively explained, I feel, by applying a variation of the 'degradation of work thesis' (Acero, 1990b). My own analysis of textile workers of both genders in Argentina and Brazil generally tends to confirm this.
My study, however, goes beyond a straightforward evaluation of technical changes on women's work at the factory level. It explicitly takes into consideration the effect that the changed nature of employment has on women's autonomy and control over household decisions. The new relationships of power within the household, in turn, affect productivity, wage levels and career progression in the workplace (Acero, 1991; Beneria and Roldan, 1987; Hirata and Humphrey, 1986). Academic studies, with the exception of some feminist scholars, have generally disregarded the interrelationships between workplace and household demands, and how these alter with the direct and indirect effects of changes in technology. I am trying to establish a link between women's positions, at home and at work, in the light of certain existing and emerging features in Latin American societies in the era of new technology. Some of the most important of these features are:
1 the increasing participation of women in both the tertiary and formal manufacturing sector;
2 the growth in casualized forms of work, in the formal sector as well as in the so-called 'informal' sector, with women being more exposed to casualization than men;
3 the increasing participation of young women in the industrial labour force, resulting in changed attitudes and practices as regards childbearing;
4 that the main burden of housework continues to be borne by women, even among those employed in industry;
5 new requirements and realities of childcare, for women entering the labour market earlier in their life-cycles;
6 the predominance of non-participatory authority within blue-collar households, which subjects working women to various forms of exploitation, violence, and abuse.
The restructuring of the textiles industry: Technology and new organizational models
Until 1970, small textile firms (less than 500 workers) accounted for approximately 50 per cent of the textiles output in Brazil, while medium and large firms were responsible for 15 per cent and 35 per cent respectively (BNDE, 1977). But after the economic policy implemented during the Brazilian miracle (1968-1973), the sector became much more concentrated. Concentration and restructuring have continued in recent years, which have been characterized by:
1 the stagnation of internal demand for textiles due to economic recession and social impoverishment;
2 the gradual liberalization of domestic tariffs, and the relative opening of the economy to international competition;
3 an increased incentive to export, given the international increase in export quotas allowed by the weakening of the controls built into the Multifibre Agreement operating between 1974 and 1992;
4 the beginnings of the implementation of the Mercosur Agreement, a common market between Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, which will create a market of 200 million consumers;
5 the need to recover lost productivity and competitiveness in the industry which, between 1990 and 1992, was operating at 50 per cent to 60 per cent of its installed capacity.
The push towards technological upgrading was reflected in increasing imports of textiles machinery over the years. In 1991, such machinery accounted for 17.2 per cent of total capital goods imports. Modernization with computer technology began in the 80s, with the incorporation of microelectronic devices into machinery in some phases of the production process and in other sub-branches of textiles (e.g. into the circular automatic looms used in knitting). Innovations were further developed in the finishing stages of production. Technologically, Brazil is considered to be at an intermediate level within the international economy; with the average age of its textile machines being 14-16 years (as opposed to 6-8 years in developed countries). Some 60 per cent of its installed equipment is locally produced, a pattern found among the ten most advanced countries in textile production (Revista Textil, various numbers).
Greater use of mixed fibres tends to facilitate the use of microelectronic control devices. These intensify managerial control of the manufacturing process by registering, storing and transmitting information at each stage of the production process. They also take over or modify tasks that previously required human intervention. For example, they crucially affect the jobs of quality controllers. The devices demand an upgrading of supervisory and technical skills, but also training in basic informatics techniques for many types of operators, many of whom are women. The use of microelectronic control devices has facilitated the adoption of new forms of management and work organization at the plant level, such as semi-autonomous groups, quality control circles (CCQs) and just-in-time production (Ferraz, 1992). In general, industrial automation and new organizational techniques are seen by respondents in large textile firms as contributing to higher employment levels, but only among technical staff and mostly at the levels of project planning and maintenance. The knowledge relevant for industrial automation is thus expected to be in the fields of management, electronics, and the maintenance of machines. While the need for polyvalence and flexible work rhythms is increasing, the number of occupational categories and labour-intensive tasks is decreasing. With the introduction of new equipment, more weight is now being given to general education and to vocational training, rather than to workers' experiential and tacit skills.
There is very little information available on the technical levels of the textile industry in Argentina. The best way of analysing the degree of modernization in the sector is to look at the latest trends in textile machinery imports. Since 1982 (with the exception of 1983, which was a year of turmoil, with the return to democracy and the switch to the economic liberalization model), imports of textile machinery have increased steadily. Since 1985 textile machines have been the main type of machinery imported, representing in most years more than two thirds of total machinery imports. The rapid modernization of the textile industry since 1985 has partly reflected the influence of the economic model underlying the economic readjustment policy, proposed by the IMF, which was intended to return Argentina to the world market. New technology was recognized as indispensable for international competitiveness and, in the case of textiles, the promotion of certain product-lines for exports urgently required technical renewal.
The effects of textiles modernization on new forms of work organization in Argentina have not been sufficiently researched. A casestudy of one of the largest national textile firms (Novick and Lavigne, 1988), however, shows that the firm had introduced semi-autonomous groups and the just-in-time system to all its plants. This was done in order to be able to respond quickly to changing export market needs, to adapt production to higher quality products and to different types of customer orders. The authors estimated that such organizational innovations, being used in four or five of the leading textile firms, had led to job 'restructuring' for approximately 7,500 workers. Quality control had been brought down to the shop floor and relegated to blue collar workers, whom the firms now require to have new skills such as a higher disposition to group work and greater flexibility.
Technology-induced job losses
There is no satisfactory empirical evidence on job losses, differentiated by type of task and gender. However for Brazil, Visao (1992) reports that employment levels in textiles for 1991 were the lowest in the last six years. While sales had fallen by 13.5 per cent, employment fell 16 per cent, with a consequent loss of 56,800 jobs. The spinning and weaving subsectors, which had modernized the most and adopted an export-oriented strategy, were responsible for a third of those dismissals, while the textile goods sub-branch, with smaller firms, had a modest employment growth of 0.3 per cent.
The Brazilian textiles sector, though a traditional employer of female labour, substantially reduced its female labour force between 1960 and 1975, with some recovery between 1975 and 1980. But in the latter period the female workforce rose by 14 per cent, and the male workforce by just 6 per cent. This reversal can be explained by the behaviour of modernizing firms towards female labour. They initially arranged for their new equipment to be tested by male workers, then they operated it with new young women recruits, with lower wages for jobs that had become unskilled. The subcontracting of work to women working in their homes or in small workshops also increased, improving women's job opportunities. Between 1980 and 1985, there was an overall decrease in employment in the sector of 4.3 per cent, but the remaining jobs became increasingly feminized. Yet data on textiles employment by gender in 1992, based on a reduced sample (337 workers), shows the ratio of women to men falling from 0.7 per cent in January to 0.65 per cent in October of that year (IBGE, Pesquisa têxtil, 1992). The picture is thus still unclear.
In Argentina, as in Brazil, the textiles industry has always absorbed a significant proportion of female labour. In August 1982, 36.6 per cent of workers in the industry were women. This is a high rate, as overall female participation in manufacturing was only 24.1 per cent, increasing slightly to 26.1 per cent in 1990 (INDEC, Household Survey, various numbers).
FITA (1988) reported that in 1987, in the whole textile sector, there were only 82,000 employees, of which approximately 75 per cent were blue-collar workers. A third of this blue-collar employment was female. The greatest reduction in employment took place between 1973 and 1984 (from 122,697 to 88,352 employees), due to a general economic and political crisis. Job-losses due to technical change have occurred mostly since 1985, when the newest modern equipment was being imported on a large scale. Between 1985 and 1989, the number of workers employed in textiles decreased by 7.8 per cent, while the hours worked diminished by only 3.9 per cent, revealing an intensification of work, mostly to be attributed to technical change (INDEC, 1992). Only a minor part of that intensification was due to longer working hours among the self-employed: much more was due to the casualization of employees' contracts. Three-month contracts, without rights to social legislation, have become common in the last two years in the Argentine industry (Roldan, 1992).
Technical change and labour use
In textiles, technology has done away with some tasks altogether by incorporating them into the machinery. Pirn-strippers and pirn-winders, for example, are no longer required. Technology has also changed the characteristics of other tasks, simplifying some and so reducing the number of specializations in some occupational categories, such as spinners and weavers. In some cases, jobs have vanished due to changes in work organization. The foreman's job, for example, could be done away with as workers themselves were left to supervise machines. Half the foreman's jobs which were lost were previously carried out by women. Few new jobs were created to compensate for these job-losses. Moreover, since the technology for both countries had been designed abroad, few new technical and engineering posts became available. Some job opportunities opened up later in the domestic equipment industry, principally in sales, but the numbers were insignificant. Furthermore, there was a continual reduction in overtime employment, at least part of which could be attributed to technical change.
The skills of workers who remained employed were also substantially altered, though not in uniform ways. Maintenance workers in new technology were required to make their skills more machine-specific, hence reducing their knowledge of more abstract principles that could be applied to a broader range of textile machinery. Their skills became both more sophisticated and less broad. From the point of view of individual crafts and experience, technical change did not produce a straightforward de-skilling of all categories of production and maintenance workers. In most cases, however, technological changes led to a downgrading of skills. The jobs that required long experience were done away with, for instance drawing-in hands, doffers and tying-in hands. These vanishing positions were previously all occupied by women. At the same time, some jobs that contained a higher level of formal skill were also downgraded. For instance, the skills required of foremen were changed completely, as the job was split into maintenance and supervision roles, and the latter became more important. One common feature among all categories of workers remaining in the modernized plants was that the intensity of their work increased substantially. Spinners, for example, were literally running around the machines for eight hours a day, and work intensity for weavers increased by 20 per cent. An ability to cope with high work rhythms was considered a preferred attribute, and was described by management as among the 'typically women's qualities.'
If the skills needed from the majority of blue-collar workers in the firms were reduced (mainly by the reduction of posts requiring higher skills), one would expect the overall training time to diminish. But in fact more resources were devoted to in-plant training in the new sections, especially in Brazilian plants. This was done primarily for economic gains: first, it guaranteed a tax deduction, and second, a payment was drawn from workers themselves during their training time. However, such in-plant training also fosters an acceptance among workers of the devaluation of experience-based knowledge and its replacement by technically-based knowledge. This shift helps to downgrade the jobs that use less technically-based knowledge, which are jobs performed by women.
In the textile factories studied, the management had established a clear distinction between men's work and women's work, built into the job descriptions used in recruitment procedures. Most of the pre-spinning sections were male. Both genders were employed at the spinning stage, but twisting and winding were considered female sections. The job descriptions were based on the assumption that women should be employed for safer jobs or for those that need less strength and more dedication and acceptance of routinization. Understandably, women received low wages, or wages lower than men. Wage differentials of between 25 per cent and 50 per cent were common. Women were never recruited for the top skilled jobs, such as maintenance work.
By reducing the skills component of many of these tasks, new technology allowed management to recruit workers with no previous experience in the industry, so reducing the constraints imposed by historical gender divisions in the workplace. New technology, by decreasing the skill content of jobs, brought about the 'feminization' of tasks that had been male and the 'masculinization' of tasks that had been female. The result, unfortunately, was that most jobs were paid less than previously.
Generally, women gained a larger share of the deskilled jobs. The new machines were initially operated by male workers, but once the production and organizational know-how needed to run the new sections had been built up, firms developed the policy of employing young female machine operators (up to 25 years old). Women were seen as 'naturally' more reliable, hard-working and disciplined than male machine operators.
Firms developed specific practices that made female workers more vulnerable to managerial control. First, it was less common to enter promotions in work records for women than for men. This gave women, indirectly, fewer rights to wage increases, as well as lowering their bargaining position when looking for jobs in other textile plants. Second, women were subject to a permanent threat of dismissal if they became pregnant. Pregnancy was periodically checked among the female labour force in the firms (in Brazil more than in Argentina).
Women's subordinate position in the factory was defined also by certain differences in their own responses and relationships. They tended to relate to supervisors as if they were family figures and to prefer men to women in these positions. At the same time they were more readily aware and active than men in denouncing faulty working conditions and high machine-pacing, as factors affecting their health. They were also keener than men to defend the principal of equal wages for equal work. Younger women in the new sections expressed support for other workers' movements. They blamed themselves, individually, for not taking a strong position within the workplace by demanding the registration of promotions in their work records; yet they took no group action. Their consciousness was contradictory, and was expressed differently from that of male workers. There was thus a recomposition of the forms of subordination of women after technical change.
Vocational training and retraining patterns for textiles: Implications for women
The most important centres of vocational training are SENAI in Brazil and CONET in Argentina.2 However the textile industries in both countries mainly train their production and maintenance workers on the job. This is true not only of large and medium-size firms, but even of small firms. Large and medium-sized companies in Brazil usually set up their training centres at the plant in collaboration with SENAI. Maintenance staff tend to attend specific short formal courses, complementary to their on-the-job training, at SENAI or CONET.
SENAI, in the State of Sao Paulo, where textiles are still concentrated, offers a wide range of courses: direct action courses, where the training takes place mainly in SENAI's professional training units (schools) or in technical training units of the Regional Departments; and indirect action courses, organized by the firms through their own training centres but under SENAI's supervision. The two types of courses differ significantly in the types of posts for which training is developed, their duration and costs per student (SENAI, 1987). In 1988 there were 4,805 registrations in all SENAI's textile courses, almost three quarters of them from students attending the direct action courses, with an average course duration of 216.5 hours per trainee. The indirect action courses offered only industrial training for blue-collar textile workers. Indirect action courses were shorter, involving on average one to two weeks' training, seventy hours per trainee. Understandably, many more women attended the second type of course. Some 70 per cent of the students are women, many of them 17 years old or younger, and many with little or no schooling.
SENAI's training model is developed mainly by studying, through occupational analysis in the industry, the work content for each post. Then it is transformed into teaching materials, which are largely delivered through 'directive teaching' (Caruso, 1990). However, 'problem-solving' training, which is seldom given, is what is required for some posts in the new technical paradigm, especially in relation to the transferable skills that workers need to move from one type of task to another. The new organizational techniques which are spreading through the industry also require this type of flexible skill. The extended application of task techniques to areas in which women concentrate further devalues jobs and skills.
CONET's training scope is much smaller than that of SENAI. General industrial training agreements, of the type developed by SENAI in Brazil, are virtually non-existent between CONET and textile firms. The only courses that deal with the new requirements for microelectronics-based textile equipment at all are the course for technicians at CONET and the course for textile engineers at the National Technical University (UTN). These types of training are not accessible to most women.
Textile technicians do study programming, but subjects such as quality control and industrial reorganization, greatly needed in working with the new technologies, are not addressed in the syllabus. This failure to adapt to the demands of new technology production methods is not due to a need to keep training costs low, since these costs are quite moderate. At the firm level, training costs are very low for most categories of workers. The lack of training for many activities, such as those of foremen and supervisors, can also not be explained simply in economic terms. It costs, on average, only US $90 a month to train one worker for each post.
Recent research reveals the difficulties of the Argentine textile industry in finding specialized skilled workers (CONET, 1992). The discovery of what is termed the 'industrial illiteracy' of the Argentine worker in this phase of automation led to the creation of a Sub-secretariat of Vocational Training, within the Ministry of Labour, in 1992. All of CONET's educational units were transferred to it, in order to connect the productive sector with vocational training schemes. The impact of this change, at the national level and specifically for women workers, remains unclear.
The work environment in textiles
A textile mill in Brazil or Argentina is frequently a world of noise, dust, and sometimes humidity and heat. The production uses a vast quantity of water and a variety of chemicals. These generate liquid waste containing substantial pollutants, in the form of organic and suspended matter, such as fibres and grease (UNEP, 1991). Field-work has shown that, in both countries and most production stages, noise-levels well beyond the legal limit of 80 decibels are common. Floors are usually dirty, the pre-spinning stages extremely dusty and the finishing stages toxic, with highly concentrated odours. In Brazil, moreover, daily monitoring of safety issues by the CIPA (Commissions for the Prevention of Accidents) is largely nominal, with the exception of some general training campaigns in risk awareness. In both countries, work accident data is usually not made available, or is not even collected at the plant level.
More surprising still is that neither SENAI nor CONET, or the newly formed Secretariat for Vocational Training in Argentina, systematically tackle training on environmental issues in their programmes for the sector. SENAI has environmental awareness training courses for the younger generation, but these are not sector-specific. The Secretariat does not include environmental training in its programme. Greater awareness in this field in both countries, and particularly in Brazil, came from the trade unions, especially DIESSE (The Inter-Departmental Training and Research Trade Union Institute), which publishes several booklets to promulgate work and safety measures for selected industries (DIESSE, various numbers). Still, the real concern is very new, and hardly addresses the new types of work hazards that microelectronic technologies can bring about, such as: isolation and fatigue from reduced communication, higher machine pacing, and the embodiment of work control within the technological system; headaches and loss of sight from working with VDUs; miscarriages due to new chemicals related to semi-conductors and new materials previously almost unknown or untested, and other reproductive risks; and severe localized muscular tensions leading to possible atrophies or acute back pain and arthritis.
Textile workers' households3
Nuclear families, of three or four people, are the norm in both countries. They are more common in Argentina (41.7 per cent vs. 38.1 per cent in Brazil). In Brazil, more extended households are more common. There are usually two wage earners. In Argentina, 35 per cent of the households in our sample had only one wage-earner, and only 15.8 per cent of the households in Brazil. In Argentina, 18.5 per cent of the households have women as sole providers, and only 9.7 per cent in Brazil. Labour conditions, employment stability and compensation for dismissal were better in Argentina at the time of our initial study in 1986. Argentina also had more stable and higher wages. This could partially explain why more Argentinian households have only one wage-earner.
Being the main breadwinner can make women workers much more vulnerable in the world of work. One woman interviewed in Argentina put it thus 'while I feel calmer without a husband to look after, I have only myself to rely upon, the children are still too small . . . so I must under any circumstances keep my job, but I can't take any extra time off to do the training required.... It is a vicious circle because I lose the possibility of promotion and wages do not make ends meet. I sometimes wonder if this is autonomy.'
In a quarter of the households in Argentina and Brazil - slightly more in Argentina - couples make decisions about the managing of income jointly. The proportion was higher for younger couples. Control over key economic decisions very much depended upon whether the female interviewee was an income provider. Sole providers, whether they be men or women, are usually the sole managers of the household budgets. 'Now that I bring in money to the family, at least, my husband does not control so much what I buy for the kids or for myself,' said a woman worker. Offspring seldom have any role in the management of the household budget, whether they are providers or not: this was especially marked in Brazil.
The burden of housework was carried mostly by the female textile workers in these households. Paid work and travel sometimes take ten to twelve hours per day. Part of Sunday is spent doing extra housework. A very high proportion of men, particularly Brazilian men, do not participate in household chores.
The tasks that men claimed to perform varied markedly between the two countries. Argentinian men are involved in some cooking, tidying the house, and washing dishes, but they also participate in shopping and childcare. Brazilian men look after the children only on odd occasions and they engage in a limited way in cooking and shopping. But this participation is sporadic and discontinuous. Sharing of housework among married couples is not very common. The greatest cooperation was found among younger couples, with and without children, in Argentina. But even here, there is not necessarily an equal level of participation. Cooperation between family members substantially reduces the burden of household chores on the individual woman. But this is only found among women belonging to the same household. For example, our study shows that, in Brazil, chores that could take an individual woman an average six hours daily, can take only four hours when performed collaboratively with other women.
Workers marry early in their life in both countries, women even earlier than men, when they are teenagers. Men tend to marry younger women and women to marry older men. In Argentina, these unions are quite stable, second marriages being infrequent. Women initiate a separation more frequently than men, especially in Argentina. When they do so, they tend to remain single. Qualitative information shows that, in Argentina, married women who work outside the household have more autonomy, but also face new household conflicts in relation to housework and childcare. A woman who had recently become separated presented it thus: 'Everything was OK till I became a worker, then I would come back at six or seven o'clock at night to find nothing had been done and the children were unfed and dirty. I would tell him to help, but he became violent. Several times he "aimed" at me. The thing he most hated was that his shirts were not ironed. Also, he resented my handing him money because it was mine. So he could not go drinking when he pleased.'
Workers in both countries tend to have some work experience before marrying, which shows their need to secure an income before marriage and also reflects the early age at which they start work. Women have less work experience at the time of marriage than men. In a few cases women had married without having any experience of paid employment, but there are no such cases among males, who are brought up to become income-providers.
More than half the workers in the samples had children. However, more men than women were parents: as the women textile workers explained, paid work leaves little time for child-bearing. There were an average of three children per interviewee in Brazil and two in Argentina, low figures for developing countries. Women workers prefer to wait longer than men, after marriage or forming a stable union, to have their first child. Industrial work has undoubtedly influenced this. In Argentina, women are less likely to have children after beginning work in the textile industry. They see their work both as limiting their reproductive role and widening their social field. In Brazil, a significant number of women are dismissed from industrial work owing to pregnancy, which significantly affects the continuity of their work records. In the households which we studied, the childcare was usually carried out by the women, whether or not they were also working. Childcare facilities provided by firms or by local groups were rare in both countries, although the law in Brazil requires medium-size and large firms to provide facilities.
Most workers had permanent accommodation. Brazilian workers tended to live with their families of origin after marriage, until they obtain government funds to buy their own house, a facility offered to local workers. This living arrangement means that they receive help from mothers or mothers-in-law for childcare. In Argentina, on the other hand, the norm is the nuclear family, and it is common for workers to move back to parents' or parents-in-law's houses only when the first child is born, in order to secure childcare facilities. They revert to the nuclear family when the older children, particularly daughters, are able to help with childcare.
Broadly speaking, the relation between events in the life-cycles of female textile workers in the two countries followed a similar pattern. The workers have a first job, they then enter textiles, they marry a few years before or after that time, they move from their parental home, they have their first child and, around that time, they begin to use contraceptive methods. But significant differences by gender and age could be found between countries.
Among Brazilian women the events followed each other very rapidly, occurring in their teens and the early years of their mature life. The time span between their entrance into textiles and marriage, as well as between marriage and motherhood, is shorter than that of Argentinian women. They also show a strong work continuity and, although their reproductive role interferes with their working lives, they manage to limit this interference more effectively than Argentinian women. This can be explained largely by their living arrangements, with older women taking care of their children, and their more critical approach to social attitudes towards gender. Discontinuity in an individual's work history is more common in Argentina, where gender stereotypes about marriage, birth control and, especially, childcare have a greater hold. They leave a longer time between marriage and childbearing, once they become industrial workers. This is not because they are more work-oriented, as management argues, but because they 'have a feeling' that, once married, part of their flexibility in handling their own lives will be lost.
Modernization in the textiles sector has had little direct effect on workers' behaviour as regards marriage, living with parents or in-laws, fertility and family planning. There was more information available on contraception, and the periodical checking of women for pregnancy was more common, in modernized firms and sections in Brazil. However, we could not identify any marked trend towards more reliable or continuous birth control practices among these women, nor any significant increase in their knowledge about contraceptive measures.
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