The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Occupational Segregation

  • Myra H. Strober
Reference work entry


Neither men and women nor whites and non-whites are distributed equally across occupations. This inequality by gender or race is termed occupational segregation. Occupational segregation by gender is of greater magnitude and has been more persistent over time. Also, it has been more widely studied.

Neither men and women nor whites and non-whites are distributed equally across occupations. This inequality by gender or race is termed occupational segregation. Occupational segregation by gender is of greater magnitude and has been more persistent over time. Also, it has been more widely studied.

Occupational segregation is generally measured by the index of segregation, I.S., defined as
$$ \mathrm{I}.\mathrm{S}.=\frac{1}{2}\sum \limits_{i=1}^m\left|{x}_i-{y}_i\right| $$
where x = the percentage of one group (e.g., women or non-whites) in the ith category of a particular occupation, and y = the percentage of the other group (e.g., men or whites) in that same category (Duncan and Duncan 1955). The index ranges from 0, indicating complete integration, to 100, indicating complete segregation. The value of the index for segregation be gender may be interpreted as the percentage of women (or men) that would have to be redistributed among occupations in order for there to be complete equality of the occupational distribution by gender. The value of the index for segregation by race may be interpreted as the percentage of nonwhites (or whites) that would have to be redistributed among occupations in order for there to be complete equality of the occupational distribution by race.

In 1981, in the USA, the index of occupational segregation by race, computed over the eleven major census occupational categories, was 24 for men (comparing white men to nonwhite men) and 17 for women (comparing white women to non-white women) (Reskin and Hartmann 1986). These values reflect a considerable decline that took place during the post World War II period; in 1940 the index for the same categories was 43 for men and 62 for women (Treiman and Terrell 1975).

It is generally agreed that in the USA the index of segregation by gender changed little between 1900 and 1960 although the changes in occupational categories over a sixty-year period make such comparisons difficult to interpret. Between 1940 and 1981, across the 11 major occupational categories, the segregation index by gender fell only slightly for whites (from 46 to 41), though somewhat more for blacks (from 58 to 39) (Treiman and Terrell 1975; Reskin and Hartmann 1986). The persistence of segregation by gender is seen as surprising in light of the marked increase in women’s labour force participation rate in the post-World War II period, from 25.8 per cent in 1940 to 52.2 per cent in 1981. (The labour force participation rate for men was 79.1 per cent in 1940 and 77.4 per cent in 1981.)

The magnitude of the segregation index depends in part upon the degree of aggregation of the occupations: the greater the detailed specification of the occupations, the greater the level of measured segregation. For example, in 1980, although the occupational category ‘professional’ was gender-neutral – women were about one-half of all professionals – they were not distributed equally across the professions; about one-half of all women professionals were in two occupations, nursing and non-college teaching. For 1981, Jacobs (1983) reported the segregation index by gender at 40.0 when calculated across 10 major occupational categories, 62.7 across 426 occupational categories and 69.6 across 10,000+ categories. Bielby and Baron (1984), in their study of approximately 400 establishments in California, found that in more than 50 per cent of the establishments occupations were completely segregated by gender and that only 20 per cent of the establishments had segregation indices lower than 90.

The gender segregation index declined by about 10 per cent during the 1970s (Beller 1984; Jacobs 1983), mostly as a result of greater integration of occupations rather than through changes in the size of predominantly male or predominantly female occupations. The decline during the 1970s was greatest among those with more than 17 years of education, and among those 25–34 (Jacobs 1983).

Another common way of looking at occupational segregation is to array occupations according to their percentage of female incumbents and then calculate the percentage of the female work force employed in predominantly female occupations. In 1980, about half of all employed women were in occupations that were at least 80 per cent female, while about 70 per cent of all men worked in occupations that were at least 80 per cent male (Reskin and Hartmann 1986). For black women and men these proportions were somewhat lower (Malveaux 1982).

Occupational segregation produces several deleterious effects. To the extent that it inhibits men and women from working in jobs that match their talents and skills and instead employs them in occupations that match societal stereotypes, occupational segregation lessens both individual satisfaction and potential economic output. In addition, occupational segregation contributes to the earnings differential between women and men. In 1970, women who worked full-time, year-round, earned approximately 60 per cent of the earnings of men who worked fulltime, year-round. Based on an analysis of 499 detailed occupational categories, Treiman and Hartmann (1981) concluded that about 35–40 per cent of this earnings differential was the result of occupational segregation. (The other 60–65 per cent came from the fact that within occupations men tend to earn more than women.) Gender segregation within occupations, gender segregation by firms and job segregation within firms also contribute to the female/male earnings differential (Reskin and Hartmann 1986). Finally, occupational segregation affects gender differences in occupational prestige and mobility as well as access to on-the-job training, job stress and vulnerability to lay-off and unemployment.

Theories to explain the existence and persistence of occupational segregation are remarkably divergent. Some sociological and psychological theories suggest that women’s own behaviour – their values, aspirations, attitudes, and sex-role expectations – are the cause of occupational segregation. Similarly, human capital theory views women’s choices about their educational attainment and interrupted work histories as responsible for their occupational designations and low pay rates. Other sociological theories, as well as economic theories of discrimination locate the employer, often aided and abetted by pressure from customers and/or employees or unions, as the source of occupational segregation. Although the world view of dual-labour-market or internal-labour-market theories is much less oriented toward individual choice and market processes than is neoclassical economics, these theories, too, locate the source of occupational segregation in employer behaviour. (For reviews of all of these theories see Reskin 1984 and Reskin and Hartmann 1986). Hartmann (1976) and Strober (1984; Strober and Arnold 1986) have pointed out that in the context of the societal-wide sex-gender system, employers, male employees and female employees all play a role in initiating and maintaining occupational segregation.

During the 1960s and 1970s, at both the Federal and State levels, several laws and Executive orders were designed to reduce occupational segregation in employment and in education and training programmes. The laws and orders were enforced with varying degrees of stringency; indeed, in some cases, enforcement agencies lacked sufficient enforcement powers, funding and personnel. It appears that where the laws were enforced they were effective, although unevenly so: ‘In general … positive effects occurred most often for black men, somewhat less so for black women, and were least evident for white women’ (Reskin and Hartmann 1986, p. 96).

It may be, however, that occupations that become integrated by gender remain so for only a brief and transient period. Bank-telling, secretarial work and teaching are all examples of formerly all-male occupations that have been resegregated as women’s occupations, with concomitant losses in relative earnings and opportunities for upward mobility (Strober and Arnold 1986; Davies 1975, 1982; Tyack and Strober 1981).

See Also


  1. Beller, A.H. 1984. Trends in occupational segregation by sex, 1960–1981. In ed. Reskin.Google Scholar
  2. Bielby, W.T. and Baron, J.N. 1984. A woman’s place is with other women: Sex segregation within organizations. In ed. Reskin.Google Scholar
  3. Davies, M.W. 1975. Women’s place is at the typewriter: Office work and office workers, 1870–1930. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Davies, M.W. 1982. Women’s place is at the typewriter; the feminization of the clerical labor force. In Labor market segmentation, ed. R. Edwards, M. Reich, and D. Gordon. Lexington: D.C. Heath.Google Scholar
  5. Duncan, O.D., and B. Duncan. 1955. A methodological analysis of segregation indexes. American Sociological Review 20(2): 210–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Hartmann, H.I. 1976. Capitalism, patriarchy and job segregation by sex. Signs 1(3): 137–169. Pt II.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Jacobs, J.A. 1983. The sex segregation of occupations and the career patterns of women. Ann Arbor: University Microfilm International.Google Scholar
  8. Malveaux, J. 1982. Recent trends in occupational segregation by race and sex. Paper presented at the workshop on job segregation by sex, committee on women’s employment and related social issues. Washington, DC: National Research Council.Google Scholar
  9. Reskin, B.F. (ed.). 1984. Sex segregation in the workplace: trends, explanations, remedies. Washington: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  10. Reskin, B.F., and H.I. Hartmann (eds.). 1986. Women’s work, men’s work: Sex segregation on the job. Washington: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  11. Strober, M.H. 1984. Toward a theory of occupational segregation: The case of public school teaching. In ed. Reskin.Google Scholar
  12. Strober, M.H. and Arnold, C. 1986. The dynamics of occupational segregation by gender: Bank tellers (1950–1980). Stanford University.Google Scholar
  13. Treiman, D.J. and Hartmann, H.I. (eds) 1981. Women, work, and wages: Equal pay for jobs of equal value. Report of the committee on occupational classification and analysis. Washington: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  14. Treiman, D.J., and J. Terrell. 1975. Sex and the process of status attainment: A comparison of working women and men. American Sociological Review 40(2): 174–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Tyack, D.B., and M.H. Strober. 1981. Jobs and gender: A history of the structuring of educational employment by gender. In Educational policy and management: Sex differentials, ed. P. Schmuck and W.W. Charters. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Myra H. Strober
    • 1
  1. 1.