FRIENDS IN LOW PLACES: GENDER, UNEMPLOYMENT AND SOCIABILITY
The recent debates about the underclass and social exclusion have focused attention on the social networks of the unemployed. However, the research in this area has largely failed to take on board the gender dimension of sociability. Using survey data this paper compares the patterns of sociability of unemployed men and women. It is argued that women's more home-centred social activity and their stronger neighbourhood and kinship links means that their social networks are less vulnerable to unemployment than men's. It is found that women's previous pattern of labour market participation is critical in building up a social network which is resistant to unemployment. However, a social network that is external to the labour market may also have some negative implications. An absence of friends in employment could lead to a detachment from the world of work. The networks of unemployed men and women are found to feature a much higher than normal concentration of unemployed members and are deficient in employment contacts. Contrary to underclass predictions this does not lead to a reduction in employment commitment but it does have repercussions for the availability of support and access to job information.