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Sex segregation.


The National Academy of Sciences published a study examining the cause, the extent, and the future direction of sex segregation in the workplace. The study, sponsored by the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education and the Carnegie Corporation, was conducted for the Academy by a 14-member committee of academic and business experts, chaired by Alice S. Ilchman, president of Sarah Lawrence Collge. Excerpts:

Measuring sex segregation

During the past decade, women's occupational options have unquestionably expanded. Their participation has increased sharply in several occupations previously predominantly male by tradition or policy: for example, lawyers, bank managers, insurance adjusters, postal clerks, bus drivers, and janitors, among others. In other occupations, women's representation is small but increasing rapidly, for example: coal miners, police officers, and engineers. The overall index of occupational sex segregation declined by nearly 10 percent between 1972 and 1981, more than it had during any previous decade in this century. Much of this decline was due to women's increased participation in many occupations that were 20 to 60 percent female in 1970 as well as to the decline in the size of some female-dominated occupations, rather than to the entry of women (or men) into the most atypical jobs for their sex.

Nevertheless, sex segregation continues to characterize the American workplace, despite the changes that have occurred in some occupations. Millions of women continue to work in a small number of almost totally female clerical and service occupations, and men continue to make up the majority of workers in the majority of occupations.

Explaining sex segregation

Several explanations have been proposed to account for the persistence of sex segregation in the workplace; they emphasize different factors and differ strongly in the interventions they imply. Not surprisingly, the evidence neither provides full confirmation nor warrants full rejection of any single explanation. However, reviewed scientific evidence fails to support the argument that women's occupational outcomes result primarily from free choices that they make in an open market. It suggests rather that women face discrimination and institutional barriers in their education, training, and employment. Often the opportunities that women encounter in the labor market and in premarket training and education constrain their choices to a narrow set of alternatives.

The weight of scientific evidence indicates that discrimination has played a significant role in maintaining a sex-segregated work force. That women believe they face discrimination is evidence by the thousands of sex discrimination complaints filed under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which prohibits sex discrimination in many employment practices). A number of statistical studies of large employers show, that equally qualified men and women are often assigned different jobs, with long-term effects on their subsequent careers. Case studies of some employers against which complaints have been filed and of certain industries provide corroborative evidence of the occurrenc of sex discrimination in employment practices.

Responsibility for the daily care of family members, which women bear more than men, also undoubtedly affects labor market outcomes in many ways, but its link specifically to sex-segregated occupations is less clear. One hypothesis, based on human capital theory, is that women choose female-dominated occupations because those occupations are more compatible with child-rearing (by penalizing work interruptions lessthan male-dominated occupations); this hypothesis has found equivocal empirical support. Further research is warranted on connections between employment opportunities and family responsibilities for both sexes.

Reducing sex segregation

Laws and regulations of the 1960's and 1970's prohibit sex discrimination in employment and apprenticeship programs and mandate sex equity in federally funded job training programs and vocational and general education. Women have made substantial progress in entering some predominantly male occupations and training and educational programs.

Definitely establishing that women's gains were caused directly by interventions is quite difficult, however. On one hand, the very existence of anti-dicrimination laws or regulations may contribute to change. According to one theory underlying law enforcement, most change occurs through voluntary compliance by establishments against which no action has been taken, either out of the desire to avoid sanctions or because laws help to reshape employers' opinions about acceptable behavior. At the same time, laws encourage women to believe that they will not face discrimination and hence to train for and pursue sex-atypical occupations. On the other hand, important changes--including women's heightened consciousness of their rights and possibilities, prompted by the feminist movement--occurred during the period in which most interventions were implemented and were an important force for their enactment. Obviously, disentangling such cultural changes is difficult. Some of the studies that attempt to demonstrate the impact of specific laws or regulations are imperfect. Taken together, however, the case studies and statistical research present a compelling case for the long-term effectiveness of legislative remedies.

The 173-page report, Women's Work, Men's Work: Sex Segregation on the Job, is available ($15.50) from National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20418.
COPYRIGHT 1986 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:summary of Women's Work, Men's Work: Sex Segregation on the Job
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Feb 1, 1986
Previous Article:Industrial relations in Britain.
Next Article:Employment and unemployment: developments in 1985.

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