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Analysis of gender segregation and its consequences

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3193 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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How can we explain gender segregation and what are its consequences? Relate your answer to theories and empirical evidence.

Gender segregation has been explained by a number of theories (Blackburn et al., 2002, p.513). The notion that the occupational structure work tends to be segregated on gender lines has been understood as significant not because it is just a description of a context, but rather it receives attention on account of the lower pay that female-dominated occupations tend to receive (Miller et al. 2004, p.522). Discerning a significant cause, or a prime mover, behind the prevalence of gender segregation has proved difficult (Tomlinson, 2009, p.349). The relationship between agency and structure is hotly debated in the ways in which it has an effect upon gender segregation (Blackburn et al., 2002, p.529). These issues will be considered as follows. First, rational choice and human capital theories will be considered. Second, the patriarchal theoretical contribution will be examined and the consequences that occur as the result of gender segregation. Finally, the extent to which the attempt to discern a monocausal explanation for this phenomenon is erroneous will be considered with the consideration that the phenomena inherent in gender segregation are too complex to be explained by a single argument in all cases.

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Rational choice theories have significant drawbacks in explaining gender segregation (Gonas and Karlsson, 2006, p.4). In the first place, this theoretical contribution tends to ascribe a significant amount of agency to the individual (Blackburn et al. 2002, p.522). This therefore reduces the effect of structure upon the effect (Gonas and Karlsson, 2006, p.4). It is assumed in rational choice theories from the outset that people will act in a way that will best serve their interests, and this means there is an argument that by spending time on domestic work, women are thus prevented in investing in human capital. This holds some significant drawbacks as an explanation. In the first place, women tend to lead against men in education (Connolly, 2008, p.249). The number of women attending university now exceeds the number of men (Miller et al., 2004, p.7). Upon achieving adulthood, therefore, there is a greater level of human capital that has tended to be invested in women than exists in men at the same stage of entering work. At the very least there is a limited amount that can be held to have a significant effect upon the occupations (Tomlinson et al., 2009, p. 351).

Furthermore, the rational choice theory would suggest that there is rationalism for all aspects of human behaviour and if not, then the theory is changed in order to fit the phenomenon. Not all individuals will enter into professions that would provide the highest payment or the greatest chances of renumeration (Radford, 1998, p.64). There may be gender differences in this type of occupation, which might result from the prevalence of female role models in some types of occupations and males in others, resulting in the notion of the type of occupations that might be considered attractive (Simpson, 2004, p.351). The notion that individuals have agency do not mean that they will go for what can be considered the most ‘rational’ course of action as many different views exist as to what might be considered the benefit of different jobs (Blackburn et al., 523). The human capital argument would seem to be the most limited of the explanatory theses in many ways as it suggests that people are rewarded for their previous investment into their own education and training – and there does not seem to be a consistent difference between the sexes that can bear out this argument (Miller et al., 2004, p.29).

These objections to the rational choice argument do not suggest that there is no logical place for this argument in the debate (Miller et al., 2004, p.30). In particular, there might be a different notion of the relationship between the individual and the structures that affect occupational segregation (Blackburn et al., 2002, p.523). This can be seen in the argument of gender stereotypes prevailing in different occupations. The prevalence of gender segregation in occupations results in a class of jobs that is then subject to societal stereotypes (Miller et al., 2004, p. 27). Segregation occurs and then this becomes embodied within the stereotypes and the cultural norms and expectations that then create a circular argument that results in reinforcing the process of segregation (Miller et al., 2004, p.27). This would suggest an implicit influence of the individual’s perceptions of certain types of jobs and the roles that are inherent in different jobs, which would then result in the impression that certain jobs are differently desirable on the basis of gender (Tomlinson et al., 2009, p.351). This is an important aspect that is considered by a number of arguments in the field, and is supported by the notion of the relationship between gender and society as an interaction rather than one being imposed upon the other. Blackburn et al. (2002, p.526) point out that although adult female participation in the labour force has indeed become easier, we should not expect this to have immediately resulted in a sudden and abrupt change in the occupational structure. The prevalence of occupational segregation would seem an apt question to ask in a number of generations, but since the societal changes are relatively recent, there is a strong case to be made that the process is fluid, and is progressing in a direction that would suggest it would ultimately diminish.

The patriarchal explanation of gender segregation rests upon the notion that women are implicitly or explicitly given to consider that their nature is the domestic sphere (Blackburn et al., 2002, p.521). This can therefore result in several consequences. In the first place it can result in a structural relationship that means women are given less consideration for the more lucrative occupations (Tomlinson et al., 2009, p.355). It is the implicit consideration of the employer that female employees will not be as reliable as males in the long term and will ultimately result in long periods being taken off work, thus reducing their perceived value in the view of the employer (Radford, 1998, p.64). This element of a patriarchal structure and the way in which it affects the way individual employers function in society is given short shrift by Blackburn et al. (2002) among others, but it is certainly an element that has not fully been considered by them. First, this explanation depends upon the fact that the higher paid an occupation, the more likely it is that the employer is looking for a long-term commitment (Browne, 2006, p.2). The idea that women of a child-bearing age hold the potential to avoid making that commitment for the long term, and also result in some disruption through the provision of substitute work and the payment of maternity leave may well reduce the potential value of a female employee in such a situation (Miller, 2004, p.56). Secondly, the inability to maintain a consistent presence in an employment context that, if lucrative, may well be competitive, could also result in the reduced potential of the female employee to maintain an effective presence (Browne, 2006, p.3). This would suggest there is a strong potential for the selection theory that suggests that there is an element of biological determinism in a number of jobs, which is a view that was stated by Sir Alan Sugar (Sparrow, 2009).

Nevertheless, the view put forward by Blackburn et al., (2002) must be considered as rooted in the correct interpretation of the evidence. Women are not necessarily pushed towards lower paid occupations that will not ‘mind’ if they are absent through child-bearing; indeed it is such occupations that might have problems with the provision of cover or the cost of maternity leave (England, 2005, p.266). Although we might consider that such biological determinism has potential as an argument and even is one that holds the occasional declaration of support in ‘big’ business, it is important to note that it does not explain gender segregation as a prime mover (England, 2005, p.267). ‘Arguments of patriarchal exploitation tend to be based on a selected rewriting of history and an interpretation of the past from a contemporary perspective’ (Blackburn et al., 2002, p.522). It can be argued that it would be difficult to obtain explicit admission of the motivation for denying certain occupations to women, and therefore any argument that suggests that evidence needs to be supplied would seem to be an unfair reading of the evidence, but even the evidence that can be discerned does not support this element of a gender determinism caused by a patriarchal structure of society (Miller et al., 2004, p.32). It is, of course, easy to see patriarchalism in every element of society, and although this theory may have much to offer as one element of the issue, it is not enough to explain the prevalence of gender segregation (Blackburn et al., 2002, p.529).

A particular objection to this line of argument is in the element to which the agency is assumed as not being exercised by the women in question (England, 2005, p.265). This argument, of course, reaches the nub of the problem by the fact that on the one side, the idea that women are being forced into a course of action would seem absurd; but on the other, the notion that occupational structure is wholly a product of decisions made on a rational basis to be equally odd. Hakim’s preference theory represented a method by which the rational choice and human capital theories could be combined into one interactive theory (Blackburn et al., 2002, p.522). Biological determinism is not ignored in this theoretical contribution, and from the perspective above it would appear that it may not be possible to entirely disregard the existence of this as a factor in affecting women’s life chances as is often assumed. Most counter-arguments to this point of view resting on the notion that it represents the full explanation for the phenomenon (Miller et al., 2004, p.32). Therefore, in contrast to Blackburn et al.’s (2002, p.523) disparagement for the thesis, it can be seen as a relatively useful concept. It is correct to suggest that individuals are not entirely autonomous and social context has an effect on life chances and in this department, Hakim’s thesis is limited (Radford, 1998, p.64). However, it is not effective to suggest that because it does not take full account of the influence of social structure, the entire theory can be discounted.

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The main difficulty that appears to exist within the theories that attempt to explain gender segregation is that they all purport to be monocausal explanations of the phenomenon. This means that they can all individually be discounted, as is done by Blackburn et al. (2002), who find it easy to suggest that one theory is not effective on account of not being structural enough and considering that individuals are all autonomous beings when in fact their chances are empirically demonstrated to result from the social situation. It is also not an especially effective argument to demonstrate that any theories that place too much emphasis upon the structural features of the phenomenon run the risk of illustrating individuals as essentially following predefined destinies and are unable to reflect any control over their own options (Miller et al., 2004, p.32). It is problematic that many theories can be simply discounted through the use of effective evidence, or claims that such evidence cannot be found and therefore the theoretical contribution rests upon a naïve presumption that such a phenomenon exists. Any attempts to synthesise the different theoretical contributions together would hold a significant problem in being prone to objections from two different perspectives. This is apparently the situation that occurs with reference to Blackburn et al.’s (2002, p.523) consideration of Hakim’s preference theory, which attempts to knit together the human capital argument with the rational choice consideration; the weakness of the explanations is demonstrated by the fact that they do not take proper account of the power and choices of the employers (Blackburn et al., 2002, p.525).

This would suggest that the main difficulty in analyzing this situation lies in the consideration that there is a monocausal explanation for the phenomenon, or at least the knitting together of several broad causes into one theoretical viewpoint. Monocausal explanations are logically reductive, as it is considered pertinent for us to understand different phenomena by the methodology of reduction to several broad areas, but it also would appear to be a limitation in that it attempts to suggest that there are basic elements to the argument to which a phenomenon can be reduced. In the first place, it is posited that the views of occupation are the same, and indeed the same between the genders (Blackburn et al., 2002, p.529). This might not be the case: occupations can be viewed as a vocation, or simply as a job. There might be a tenuous difference between the genders in the ways in which such occupations are viewed that might have a marginal effect upon any survey of attitudinal differences (Miller, 2004, p.65). This would allow this particular cause to be discounted in terms of it not providing an explanatory aspect to the debate. (England, 2005, p.265) However, it need not be the case that such a variable needs to explain the whole of the variation that is observed, but simply some of it. Other variables, such as the gender preference theory may also explain other aspects of it – but not all. When faced with a complex phenomenon of which there are many variables, some empirical and some qualitative, that contribute to the way in which this phenomenon interacts, it would seem remiss to attempt to reduce it to a theory that simplifies the notion. Occupational segregation is a significant element in a society, and perhaps there are as many explanations as there are views of occupation.

A result of gender segregation in occupations is the resultant uneven economic conditions that are suffered by different men and women. However, as has been suggested by Blackburn et al. (2002, p.519), we only know that women’s jobs are worth less because they are paid less, and they are paid less because they are worth less. This produces a circular argument: gender segregation does not necessarily result in uneven economic conditions per se. Different preferences between different genders for different occupations would not result in an unequal economic condition should each occupation be valued in society by the same criteria which would result in economic pay (Charles and Grusky, 2004, p.4). Furthermore, the different economic recompense offered to each occupation is not necessarily posited on the gender preferences of a role. A female dominated occupation is not necessarily considered to be of lower value because it is a female dominated occupation; the gender segregation may often come after the occupation is created rather than before. Restaurant work or service work, for example, was traditionally considered lower value work in contexts before it became an occupation that was dominated by women (Westword, 1988, p.51). The consequence of uneven economic conditions experienced by men and women according to different occupations does not strictly result from gender segregation as a structural influence. Different occupations do not result in different economic conditions unless there is an underlying cause that results in women’s choice of occupations that do not receive the highest recompense (Westwood, 1988, p.51).

The process of gender segregation would appear to be an ongoing process. It would seem impossible to suggest that it should not occur on account of the fact that there is no segregation in other areas of society, as it appears there is still an overall lag in women in terms of skills and training (Miller, 2004, p.iii). We can therefore only begin to judge the causes and effects of occupational segregation when we have the potential for two groups of people who are equal in all other ways except for gender. At this point we would have to discount the effect of socialization, which may have resulted in differential impressions of the type of jobs that each individual is likely to hold according to gender (Miller, 2004, p.51). If there is gender segregation in the society’s occupations during the socialization of the individuals, then there is likely to be gender segregation in the occupations that then develop. The notion of certain occupations drawing upon different skills that are more likely to be held by different gender groups may also be pertinent (England, 2005, p.271). The notion of intergroup theory may be relevant through its demonstration that common work and positions in an organizational hierarchy may result in certain gender-specific attributes being related to that group. (Miller et al., 2004, p.32). Nevertheless, this theory is not borne out by the evidence, even though it is limited in its evidential base.

Our explanations of gender segregation therefore would most effectively take the position that societal change of this nature is not necessarily immediate. If individuals are given agency, a revolution is not immediate but gradual as the notion of an occupational group that demonstrates a limited level of gender segregation becomes normalized (Miller et al., 2004, p.29). Likewise the structures in society may be altered in an explicit legislative sense, but the culture that exists within certain occupations may take some time to become normalized (Blackburn et al., 2002, p.529). As a result, the questions that should be asked of this context are not simply the notion of why gender segregation has not occurred yet, but the extent to which it should be expected to have occurred. In particular, alarm bells should not be ringing at the presence of occupational segregation, but at the notion that it is not proceeding effectively in the direction of more limited segregation. Likewise, it should not be presumed that occupational segregation can be represented as a negative aspect in itself, it is the accompanying problems of low pay and poor conditions for female-dominated work that is actually the issue; occupational segregation is no the issue if the two varieties of work are valued in the same way (Gonas and Karlsson, 2006, p.5). Progress towards a lower level of inequality on account of gender in occupations appears to be proceeding in a relatively effective way, and therefore the results of occupational segregation are being slowly diminished. In the long term, therefore, it seems likely it will ultimately cease to be a problem.


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