Impact of ideology on institutional solutions addressing women's role in the labor market in Poland.

Author:Zachorowska-Mazurkiewicz, Anna

It is often stressed in economic papers that modern industrial and post-industrial societies are organized according to economic rationality, and the role of allocation is the most important one. If this were true, the participation rate of men and women in an occupational system should be shaped by the same factors in the same degree. There are, however, different factors that define the social and occupational position of men and women. Hence, social institutions shape the situation of women in the labor market. The situation of women depends on institutional solutions typical for a certain region or country, since it has evolved in different ways and as a result is not homogenous today. The historically defined position of women in society and the economy is hard to redefine based on features of the variety of institutions, for example a resistance to change. However, even though institutions are rigid, there are ways to influence them. One way used to change reality, is an ideology. This paper addresses if this is an efficient one.


The economic system is part of the greater social (or socio-cultural) system in which it is embedded (Gruchy 1987), so it may be referred to as a sub-system. According to Gruchy (1987, 42), "the ongoing economic system is a historic-cultural product" and people who are parts of that system behave according to its rules when it comes to economic activities. Therefore, they are not rational individuals whose main goal is maximizing profits or satisfaction, but members of a society, and their behavior is an outcome of rules that define this particular society. Economic activity takes place within an institutional framework, thus, rules that defined this activity may be referred to as institutions.

Institutions are rules and ways of behavior, known to each member of the society because of their everyday use; collective actions that control individual's activities; widely recognized standard social norms; and ways of thinking. Tony Lawson wrote: "Individuals are born into society and exist and develop through it in a way such that their very capacities and personalities, including psychological and other dispositions, are to an extent molded, shaped, formed and continually transformed by the societal conditions" (2003, 204-205). In this sense, institutions are not only boundaries, but they function to shape the very essence of social life (Hodgson [1988] 1993).

The influence of the state on society, as well as the national economy, shapes institutions that systematically and constantly regulate the behavior of individuals and social groups in formal and informal ways (Wilkin 1999). (1) Not all institutions are the result of the activity of the state; nevertheless, the ability of the state to influence or even create institutions has a dominant meaning in contemporary societies, because the state creates the basic framework for the institutional functioning of markets.


The considerations over an ideology should begin with the definition of this concept. However, it is not an easy task since the notion of ideology is the subject of many, sometimes very different, definitions. Present day ideologies are most often defined by social scientists as social (or political) systems of ideas, values or prescriptions of groups (or other collectivities), and are connected to organizing or legitimating the actions of that particular group (van Dijk 1998). For van Dijk (1998, 8), ideologies may be defined "as the basis of the social representations shared by members of a group." This means that ideologies allow group members to organize their social beliefs and then act accordingly. Thus, ideologies reflect the fact that our existence is pervaded with values. All of our actions are regarded as "right" or "wrong"; or, as they "ought to be" or "ought not to be" (Mohan and Kinloch 2000).

In this perspective, ideology is the set of beliefs that members of the group collectively have. The group itself may influence the ideology they share. Such an understanding of the term does not necessarily indicate the possibility of an opposite direction of the interaction. Frank Stilwell (2002, 361), implied that ideologies are systems of beliefs that shape behavior, individually and collectively. He continued with a remark that "all of us are influenced by them, knowingly or unknowingly--usually the latter." According to this definition we may call an ideology a successful one if it is widely accepted, so that the views it embodies come to be regarded as "natural" or self-evident.

Therefore, the question arises, what is the connection between ideologies and institutions? First, Ben Halpern said, "ideologies have major historical roles in many societies, with mixed consequences" (Halpern 1961; Mohan and Kinloch 2000, 137). Hence, there is a relation between ideology and historical development of society and the economic system. What is the influence of the ideology on society and the economic system? According to van Dijk, ideologies operate on two levels. The first is the global level of social structure like...

To continue reading