Occupation and Gender

Photo by Jacek Dylag via Unsplash.

Occupational segregation, defined as the tendency of men and women to work in different professions, continues to be a strong feature in labor markets around the world and has been widely found to contribute to gender wage differences. This trend highlights the importance of understanding the causes and consequences of differences in employment distributions by gender.

In a new working paper published by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, Patricia Cortes and Jessica Pan examine how various job attributes affect men and women’s occupational choices and the gender wage gap. The authors also consider the role of gender identity and social norms in shaping occupational choice and preferences for various job attributes.

Main findings:

  • The share of females is higher in occupations that are less competitive, place a greater emphasis on social contributions, are more flexible, require more interactional skills and require fewer physical skills.
  • The importance of social norms and gender identity considerations in shaping occupational choice suggest that policies aimed at changing gender norms could have potentially large payoffs. Such policies could include exposing more women to predominantly male subjects (e.g., science, technology, engineering and mathematics) early on in school and encouraging the hiring and retention of women in male-dominated professions.
  • Given gender differences in household responsibilities, policies that increase the availability of childcare and promote workplace flexibility can help to relax some of the constraints that women face in pursuing careers that require a high time commitment.

While gender differences in behavioral traits such as risk aversion and attitudes toward competition are quite well established, more work needs to be done to assess the relevance of these factors for observed gender differences in occupational choice and wages. Another aspect that would benefit from future research is an investigation of the sources of gender differences in behavioral traits and preferences. Overall, the authors’ review of the literature provides insight and identifies steps for tackling occupational segregation and gender pay differentials.

Read the Working Paper