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Gender Differentiation and Labor Market

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There exists a substantial body of sociological and economic literature about the role of gender in the labor market and its undisputable impact on the career development and level of wages. On average, men are working more, hence, enjoy more paid hours per week and more working weeks per year compared to women. At the same time, men and women have different occupations. Furthermore, researches found that men are more likely to hold managerial positions compared to women. Therefore, both sociological and economic studies are focused on explaining the relationship between gender and differences in the employment outcomes. Unlike economists who consider wage difference among men and women to be a consequence of individual preferences, sociologists consider social segregation to be a major determinant of career differences among them.

Sociologists consider that person’s position in the social structure largely determines various aspects of life, including work and career development. While women and men concentrate on different jobs and occupations, it is considered that this segregation can either mitigate or, vice verse, lead to a further divergence of work outcomes among genders (Reskin & Bielby, 2005).

This research paper is focused on the study of sociological aspects of gender discrimination on the labor market. It discusses gender differences and gender stratification in the labor market and. Further, it presents issues relating to division of labor force by gender. Finally, it discusses reasons and implications of gender differences at work.

Gender Differences and Stratification

The process of social differentiation is the one by which people are divided according to definite personal features that are crucial for the consecutive formation of groups. For example, people can be differentiated by age, place of residence, favorite food, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Practices of social differentiation of people are present in every aspect of everyday life. According to many psychologists and sociologists, the need to differentiate people according to various characteristics originates in the cognitive process in human brain to make it easier for it to perform other functions (Brewer & Liu, 1989).

Social differentiation of people by gender as well as by age is considered to be significant in many spheres because these factors are primarily decisive in the process of organizing economic and social life of people. People often overstate differences that contribute to group association in the dominant statuses through behavioral rules. For instance, during feudal times, status of a person in the society determined his/her whole life, depending on whether he/she was a simple peasant or a landlord. This was reflected in all aspects of people’s life including their clothing, Even though social differentiation does not unavoidably lead to the asymmetrical perception of members of different groups, social differentiation is still a required predecessor for social stratification. The latter is defined as a systematic disparity in the allocation of socially appreciated resources on the basis of people’s personal characteristics. It is an influential process for individuals to the degree that identical groups possessing equivalent characteristics are facing different work outcomes. Gender is used in the majority of societies for the stratification of their members (Huber, 1999; Collins et al, 1993). On the contrary, many other characteristics, including religion or level of education, are associated with disproportionate rewards. Therefore, gender differences and social stratification are considered to be fundamental social phenomena. According to the synthetic model, extent of gender differentiation in the society is positively related to the degree of gender stratification (Collins et al, 1993). Even though the degree of gender stratification varies, relative historical research shows that any society favors women over men. Moreover, majority of social groups are primarily exposed to men through various indicators of social and economic aspects of life (Huber, 1999; Tilly, 1998).

Division of Labor Force by Gender

All societies can be divided into subgroups by gender. On the basis of individuals’ biological characteristic (gender), such traits as work potential, preferences, and personality are considered to be determined automatically. Hence, these gender based conclusions are gender stereotypes. They play a significant role in the life of people as gender stereotypes are associated with a corresponding behavior. Furthermore, it is found that all societies tend to overstate biological differences between genders by associating with certain types of clothing, behavior, and tastes. Overstatement of biological gender differences and gender differentiation explain legitimacy of men’s and women’s concentration on various activities (Padavic and Reskin, 2002).

Gender-based division of labor is the most important sign of gender differentiation in various activities. In general, men tend to focus on and are mainly involved in the market work, while women specialize and are predominantly occupied in the domestic work. Furthermore, even within the market work, gender differentiation of labor is also present. It distributes genders differently across work settings and allots them different functions. Sociologists consider this gender differentiation of labor in the market to work as gender segregation.

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At the end of 20th century, the legal foundation for gender differentiation of labor had spread. Courts adopted protective labor laws that permitted women to occupy some jobs and work in certain working conditions. Gender neutral Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 documented that men and women could share the responsibility for child bearing. Also, the Welfare Reform Bill that was passed in 1996 questioned the philosophy that woman’s place was at home. As a result many states changed their divorce laws in order to reduce alimony payments. However, signs of gender differentiation of labor still persist in the society. Clearly, there is certain stability in perceptions and associations about gender and occupations, which led to labeling of corresponding male and female occupations and fields. Cultural agreement about appropriate jobs for each of genders explains that gender differentiation of work does not purely depend on personal preferences. A lot of jobs have contributed to gender differentiation of the labor force into employment structures and practices. Work schedules frequently mirror assumptions and stereotypes associated with genders of the labor force. In particular, female jobs are more likely to be dominant with respect to male jobs when they are structured as part time. Gender differentiation of labor force is also mirrored in the equipment necessary for performing work responsibilities in occupations that are pursued primarily by one gender. The more common such practices are in work places, the larger is gender segregation (Reskin & Bielby, 2005).

Gender Differentiation and Labor Market Outcomes

There is substantial evidence proving strong correlation between gender differentiation of labor force and variations in corresponding job rewards. By controlling for relevant human capital characteristics as well as other necessary control variables it was found that men on average earn more than women (Budig, 2002). Moreover, men receive more benefits and training at work as well as they obtain managerial jobs more often. In case workers are concentrated on the single gender job, then gender segregation adapts associations on the individual level between gender of workers and the rewards they receive for job to the associations on the level of jobs or occupations between composition of gender and employment rewards. Therefore, the larger the share of men at work, the higher rewards will be for workers of both genders.

Disproportions in earnings between men and women originate not only from unequal rewards for performed work, but also from the gender composition of an occupation. The higher the share of women in the job, company, or industry, the lower are the rewards. For instance, expensive restaurants are more likely to hire male servers, while cheaper restaurants are likely to hire women. This is explained by the fact that more expensive restaurants have higher wages for servers. As a result, this cross-firm segregation results in higher average payment for male servers, even if every restaurant rewards their male and female servers equally (Reskin & Bielby, 2005).

It should also be noted that it is found that both men and women on average earn less in predominantly female jobs compared to predominantly male workplaces. A stratification standpoint suggests that the negative relationship between share of female workers and the amount of rewards results from the cultural underestimation of female jobs. Extensive research has been done to support this idea. First, as the share of men in the occupation goes up, hourly wages increase. In addition, a nurturing work that is traditionally considered to be a female job is found to exercise wage penalties. Finally, both employers and workers consider that work performed by men requires more skills, and, therefore, deserves higher rewards.


To sum up, there are a lot of studies presented in the literature that have focused on the investigation of social aspects of gender differentiation on the labor market. On the basis of individuals’ biological characteristic (gender), such factors like preferences and personality traits are considered to be determined automatically. Hence, these gender based conclusions are gender stereotypes. They play a significant role in the life of people as gender stereotypes are associated with a corresponding behavior. As a result, there is evidence in both sociological and economic literature, that keeping other things constant, gender has a crucial impact on wage determination on the labor market.

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