This paper seeks to reveal whether fixed-term contracts are the new European inequality and does so in a comparative analysis of two countries typically regarded as eurosclerotic: West Germany and France. We compare the wages, wage growth and labour market outcomes of fixed-term contract workers relative to a matched sample of permanent workers with similar characteristics. Using seven waves of the European Community Household Panel (ECHP) we find evidence of wage penalties, increased exposure to unemployment and repeat spells of fixed-term employment. However, these tendencies vary significantly by country and by gender. The main finding of this paper is the extent to which fixed-term contract employment is of considerable disadvantage for French women. This is important, as previous research on female employment in the UK and in West Germany ( Booth et al ., 2002 ; Giesecke and Gross, 2003 ), two countries with intermittent female employment, did not find evidence of fixed-term worker disadvantage. Our findings, however, suggest that in countries where female employment tends to be full-time and continuous, the introduction of fixed-term contracts challenges the existing gender contract.

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