How stereotypes weigh on the integration of unqualified women in rural areas


The employment market in rural areas is changing, with growth in the service sector and low-skilled positions . A change that could a priori leave more room for unqualified women. However, their integration is far from benefiting from this boom. In fact, they find themselves faced with new challenges, whether it is competition in access to employment or financial independence as a couple.

Several studies underline this observation: the unemployment of young women is up to twice as high as that of men in rural areas and women are more affected by situations of poverty, with a more fragile and later integration .

Male competition

So what are the barriers to greater participation of unqualified women in the labor market in rural areas?

The first difficulty is that of male competition in a market still very strongly marked by a virilistic vision of employment. Indeed, the least skilled positions include a high proportion of executive positions that appeal – in traditionalist gender representations – to men rather than women. The hardship of the work or the “manual” or “physical” tasks are often perceived as masculine, even if girls are represented among the candidates from this fringe with the least demand for qualification through a diploma.

By focusing on access to employment for the rural working classes, the social sciences have very largely focused on the situation of men, leaving women aside. We speak much more readily of workers or male workers by focusing on notions such as the capital of autochthony (that is to say, access to certain local resources through the fact of being recognized as “someone ‘one of the corner’), initially perceived as a masculine notion.

The great difficulty of these young women is above all a problem of consideration resulting from an opposition between “manual” and “intellectual” positions. By associating the domain of the masculine with a supposedly greater physical capability, we reinforce gendered professional oppositions.

Thus, we promote – more or less tacitly – the hiring of men in positions perceived as “manual” (and therefore “masculine”), such as driver, factory worker, construction worker, mechanic, where jobs services, and in particular those of service and care, will be thought of as positions intended for women.

Competition of young graduates

Despite timid changes vis-à-vis the gender aspect of recruitment, hiring would therefore remain favorable to men in traditional unskilled positions, the number of which is tending to stabilize. But, as mentioned above, since the 1990s, rural areas have experienced an increase in tertiary employment with, in particular, an increase in positions in personal services. Since these jobs are traditionally associated with representations of women, one might think that they encourage the hiring of these young women without qualifications.

However, in the fields of “care” and social relations, expectations in terms of graduation are higher than elsewhere. Gendered representations therefore push these candidates towards fields where young women with CAP, professional baccalaureate, BTS or even professional licenses also apply. Thus, attempting to enter the service to the person, the field of care or even sales, means having to face qualified competition… when the practice of an activity is not simply prohibited by the absence diploma, this is the case, for example, for nursing assistant jobs.

If the differences between few or no graduates in relation to employment are lessening, this is much more true among men than among women. Of course, this does not mean that these young women without qualifications never manage to get a job or even that employers refuse all female applications, but that an additional gendered test is added to access to employment and professional stabilization of these young women.

By ousting themselves from these sectors where the lack of a diploma is more serious than elsewhere, these women frequently find themselves in situations of socio-economic vulnerability since the lowest level of expectation on the rural job market is also kind.

An exacerbated vulnerability

We see that gender stereotypes put non-graduates on the margins of positions that are considered masculine and push them towards female positions where the expectation in terms of graduation is higher.

Many, following successive failures in their attempts to integrate and stabilize in employment, end up turning away from the labor market; often driven by a desire to invest in a “maternity career” while waiting for the job search to end up leading to something.

By settling with a partner who is generally older and already professionally integrated, many then fall into a system of dependence on the spouse which can lead to situations of tension or even confinement around the couple and the child for the young woman who does not with no diploma, experience or income.

In addition, motherhood involves a strong temporal tension and then further limits their employability. It is therefore not only a question of difficulty in the face of employment that this ordeal of professional integration implies, but also a principle of dependence on one’s spouse which can – in certain unfortunate cases – engender isolation and vulnerability.

Author Bio: Clement Reversed is from the Sociology of Youth, sociology of rural areas at University of Bordeaux