Gender And Work

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Gender and Work

Occupational segregation refers to the unequal distribution of positions in the labor force. It is historically associated with exclusionary practices that excluded women from men's jobs and people of color from whites' jobs, and with practices that relegated white women and racial ethnic groups to jobs subordinate, if not subservient, to white men. Indeed, occupations associated with women and/or racial and ethnic minorities are generally associated with lower social rewards than positions held by white men, as indicated by measures of prestige, autonomy, income, and other benefits.

For example, the feminization of an occupation describes changes in the gender composition correlated with lessening the value and prestige of that occupation. As women enter a predominantly male occupation, the work becomes more closely supervised and deskilled and relatively less rewarded, as documented with the change from male to female predominance in public education and clerical work. Scholars have documented trends that show the occupational pattern of gender segregation is from male-dominated to female-dominated occupations.

A racial caste system characterized occupational distribution in U.S. society through the mid-20th century. Occupations associated with the lowest racial status groups in society were the lowest paid, most segregated, and given the least regard, or occupational prestige, of all jobs. These occupations were often the “dirtiest” and most dangerous, least secure, and allowed some of the most virulent forms of abuse.

Conversely, the most prestigious and well-paid occupations in U.S. society are associated with the highest race and gender status group: white males. Although the civil rights movement led to new legislation that led to a decline in occupational segregation, patterns of race and gender dissimilarity persist. White males remain dominant in jobs associated with the best working conditions and remuneration both within and between social classes and remain at the top of the occupational hierarchy. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2005 whites and Asians dominated professional managerial occupations, respectively holding 36 and 46 percent of the related occupational positions. In contrast, blacks and Latinos/as together held 48 percent of service occupations and 36 percent of production and other labor, and Latinos/as were more likely than any other group to work in occupations associated with natural resources, construction, and maintenance.

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows more women are in professional and managerial occupations—up to 35 percent of women by 2004—the jobs they hold remain overwhelmingly female and are often considered “semi-professional” such as nurse, librarian, and teacher. Among professional and managerial workers, women were more likely than men to be employed in education and other lower-paid fields, while men—particularly white and Asian American men—were more likely than women to work in high-paying fields such as computers and engineering.

Occupational segregation exists between and within occupations—such as the greater preponderance of men as physicians and women as nurses, and the gendering of particular types of physician or nurse as well. White-collar jobs dominated by women are called “pink-collar work”—lumping “semi-professionals” together with office-related occupations, or clerical work, and low-end retail sales. In 2004, ...
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