The main drivers of female occupational choice are supply-side (Chiswick 2006, 2007). This self-selection of females into occupations with more durable human capital, and into more general educations and more mobile training that allows women to change jobs more often and move in and out of the workforce at less cost to earning power and skills sets.
Chiswick (2006) and Becker (1985, 1993) then suggest that these supply side choices about education and careers are made against a background of a gendered division of labour and effort in the home, and in particular, in housework and the raising of children. These choices in turn reflect how individual preferences and social roles are formed and evolve in society.
These adaptations of women to the operation of the labour market, in turn, reflect a gendered division of labour and household effort in raising families and the accidents of birth as to who has these roles (Chiswick 2006, 2007; Becker 1981, 1985, 1993).
The market is operating fairly well in terms of rewarding what skills and talents people bring to it in light of a gendered division of labour and household effort and the accidents of birth. The issue is one of distributive justice about how these skills and family commitments are allocated and should be allocated outside the market between men and women when raising children. As in related areas such as racial and ethnic wage and employment gaps, these gaps are driven by differences in the skills and talents that people acquired prior to entering the labour market. …
Developments in recent decades greatly increased the options for women to combine careers and family. The unadjusted gender wage gap is narrow while the gender education gap has reversed. The progress with closing the gender gaps in employment and education in recent decades makes the crafting of further gender-based policy interventions more challenging.
The remaining gender gaps reflect much more thorny issues such as work-life balance rather than mid and late 20th century concerns such as large gender differences in education participation and attainment, sex discrimination and full-time motherhood raising much larger families.
Parental leave, early childhood education and child care subsidies have increased in New Zealand in recent years. Early childhood education spending is high in New Zealand by international standards but spending on child care subsidies is less generous (OECD 2012).
The main drivers of greater female labour force participation and greater investment in long-duration professional educations were access to reliable contraception, the rise of service sector and other jobs that depend on brains instead of brawn, the automation of housework with white goods, and rising incomes increasing the opportunity cost of having a large number of children.
This is a first in a series of blogs on occupational segregation and gender.
NZ has a gender wage gap of 6% according to the OECD and 12% according to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, with 30% of that explained by occupational segregation. That is 2 to 4 percentage points.
You have to explain occupational segregation. Men are represented more in occupations that are riskier. They are paid more for that. There are systematic differences in the occupational choices of married parents, single parents and single mothers regarding the risks of injury. Again, that feeds into wages.
Occupational segregation explains 2 to 4 percentage points of wages. Given that risk premiums – danger money – and trading lower wages for greater flexibility in a job can easily reduce wages or increase them by 2-4%, occupational segregation is simply a proxy for measurement error.
Still more of wage premiums has to be poured into this 2-4% of wages such as occupational segregation in unsocial work hours. Many more women than men work 9 to 5 during the week. Men would then have a wage premium for working nights and weekends. A hell a lot has to be explained away by just 2 to 4% wages.
What does undervalued work mean? Does it mean it is very profitable to employ women in certain occupations such as caring. That implies that high profits will lead new firms to enter these industries bidding up wages and equalising them with other competing jobs.
Claudia Goldin argues that it is difficult to rationalise sex segregation and wage discrimination on the basis of men’s taste for women in the same way as discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Goldin developed a pollution theory of discrimination in which new female hires may reduce the prestige of a previously all-male occupation.
When work took more brawn than brain, the distributions of skills and natural talents of men and women were further apart. Women were not as physically strong as men. This counted for more both before the Industrial Revolution and at the height of the Industrial Revolution when most factory work involved a considerable amount of brawn.
As machines substituted for strength, as brain replaced brawn and as educational attainment increased, the distributions of attributes, skills and natural talents narrowed by sex.
Because there is asymmetric information regarding the value of the characteristic of an individual woman, a new female hire may reduce the prestige of a previously all-male occupation.
Prestige is conferred by some portion of society and is based on the level of a productivity-related characteristic (e.g., strength, skill, education, ability) that originally defines the minimum needed to enter a particular occupation. People had to have a minimum amount of the socially prestigious strength or skill before they are hired.
Male fire fighters or police officers, to take two examples, may perceive their occupational status to depend on the sex composition of their police station or firehouse. These occupations are socially prestigious because of the strength and courage of police and fire-fighters. Men in an all-male occupation might be hostile to allowing a woman to enter their occupation even if the woman meets the qualifications for entry.
A reason for this hostility of the existing male members of the occupation is the rest of society may be slow to learn of the qualifications of these female newcomers. Their entry against this background of ignorance in the wider society may downgrade the occupation as still carrying prestigious characteristics such as physical strength. As Goldin explains:
Because they feel that the entry of women into their occupations would pollute their prestige or status in that occupation. Very simply, some external group is the arbiter of prestige and status.
Let’s take an example of firemen, and let’s say we begin not that long ago when there were no women who were firemen—which is why they’re called firemen.
And to become a fireman you have to take a test, lifting a very heavy hose and running up many flights of stairs. And every night, the firemen get off from work and go to the local bar.
Everyone slaps them on the back and says what great brawny guys they are and what a great occupation they are in, and everybody knows that to be a fireman requires certain brawny traits and lots of courage.
But nobody knows when there’s a technological shock to this occupation. And in this case it might be that fire hoses become really light or the local fire department changes the test. There are information asymmetries. But they do note that for this “brawny” characteristic, the median woman is much lower.
So if we observe a woman entering the occupation and we don’t know how to judge women, we’re going to assume that her skills are those of the median woman. Or it may be that we can observe something having to do with her muscles and that may up it a little bit.
But chances are we’re going to assume that some technological shock has happened to this occupation. And so her entry into the occupation is going to pollute it.
Then when they go to the bar, people will say, “oh you’ve got a woman in the firehouse; now fire fighting has become women’s work.” That’s where the pollution comes in.
Union rules also played a role in preventing the entry of women into some occupations
Many occupations have changed sex over time e.g., librarians, bank tellers, teachers, telephone operators, and sales positions. New occupations and industries are less like to be segregated on the basis of sex because they have not developed a social image regarding the prestige of workers.
Occupational segregation came to an end because credentialisation, which spreads information about individual women’s productivities and shatters old stereotypes, can help expunge this pollution of the prestige of specific occupations and jobs both within the industry and in wider society .
The visibility successful women today and in the past may help shatter old stereotypes and increase knowledge about the true distribution of female attributes in this prestigious occupation.
Goldin found that when typists were primarily men, it was claimed that typing required physical stamina so woman need not apply.
But later, when the occupational sex segregation reversed, when typing became a female occupation, it was said that typing required a woman’s dexterity, which men did not have! When I was at school, only women were taught to type.