Monday, April 2, 2007

Preference Theory: Sex Segregation

Hakim, Catherine. 2006. “Women, careers, and work-life preferences.” British Journal of Guidance & Counselling. 34:279-294.

Trying to find some sort of theoretical background as to why there is occupational segregation, I came across an article identifying how the US and Britain have tried to solve the problem of gender discrimination/segregation in the workplace. Although there has been an increase of women working in the labor market, and family-friendly policies have been set in place to somehow offset the gender inequalities, Catherine Hakim (2006) from the department of Sociology in the London School of Economics, and other sociological theorists agree that neither one of these “make any major positive difference to gender equality in the labour market, as indicated by levels of occupational segregation, the pay gap and the glass ceiling”. On the Contrary, they exacerbate these problems” (281).

The fact is, although women might be able to join the work force, if they want to have children and a family, they cannot work the long irregular hours, travel for work, or be full time. That is, part-time jobs that would pay the same wages as full time jobs are a rarity in the US and Britain. On the other hand, many men who are married and have children have the “luxury” of mentally and physically working for 24 hours a day, because their wives are at home with the children (Harkim 2006). Therefore, even if there are more women in the work force, they are working in low-income part time positions. An example of this type of low-paying job would be a school teacher.

In addition employers and other employees feel it is unfair for women to get child leave, while the rest of the workers are working overtime to do the work left by the mothers who are on leave. Here, the employers are angry because they are forced to pay extra to the overtime workers, and the other employees are jealous because they do not get any paid leave (Harkim 2006).

Harkim examines two types of occupational segregations 1-Horizontal and 2-Vertical. The former means segregation by choice of job, for example, men might choose to be carpenters while women might choose to be school teachers. The latter means segregation when men monopolize the dominant job positions. With that said, Harkim writes that macro-level studies cannot tell anything about the social processes at the micro-level. “It is wrong to assume that a low percentage of women in higher-grade jobs is necessarily due to sex discrimination alone” (285). She suggests examining the women with dominant positions—most are childless, or have only one child, and these women express so-called “masculine” characteristics, thereby perpetuating dominant male ideals.

To express another reason why there is sex segregation, Harkim suggests “Preference theory” predicts the polarization of work-lifestyles. “Preference theory specifies the historical context in which core values become important predictors of behaviour” (286). Harkim’s table of preferences shows approximately 20% of women are “home-centered” (stay-at-home moms), 60% of women are “adaptive” (try to balance work and home life), and 20% of women are “work-centered” (work-a-holics, mostly childless) (288). From this spectrum, Harkim claims that men remain dominant and sex segregation continues because only a minority of women are work-centered. Since part-time jobs are rare, in relation to sustaining a family while working, women choose jobs like teachers, or seasonal/ temporary occupations.

The implications of this are that increased women in the labor market does not matter, equality policies are misdirected because they overlook people with other life goals. Furthermore the wage gap and glass ceilings persist because high paying part-time work rarely exists. Finally, so-called equity policies create a jealous atmosphere for those who do not get gender neutral policies for paid leave.

As for the future, Harkim suggests gender-neutral policies, like the ones in the Netherlands, where anyone has the right to ask for part-time hours, rather than part-time wages. Also, mothers should not be the only ones with paid leave; other workers should get longer paid vacations or paid leave for their personal reasons.

Future Research:

Would this phenomenon be similar for migrant women, or even migrant men? Is sex segregation or racial segregation a cause of differing life goals? What cities, racial-ethnic groups are affected most?

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