How job sex-typing is still employed

Gender Segregation and Social Change:
February 24, 1995

This is one of six edited collections to come out of the Economic and Social Research Council's funded initiative on Social Change and Economic Life (SCELI). The interdisciplinary research, involving 35 researchers based in 14 institutions, was concerned with examining the impact of economic restructuring in the 1980s. Research was undertaken in six local labour markets, three (Aberdeen, Northampton and Swindon) with relatively low levels of unemployment and three (Coventry, Kirkcaldy and Rochdale) with relatively high levels.

A series of surveys was carried out in 1986 and 1987, and all but two of the chapters in this book are based on analysis of the survey data. The major study was a work attitudes/history survey - a random survey of approximately 1,000 people aged 20-60 in each location. This was followed by a household and community survey involving about a third of those interviewed for the work survey.

An employer survey involved telephone interviews with the management in the establishments identified in the work survey, with a non-random follow-up survey of 30 establishments at each locality to gain more detailed information on the motives behind different kinds of employer policy. In addition, there were a number of more detailed studies at each location.

The volume under review is concerned with gender segregation. All but three chapters are based on statistical analyses of the large data sets, which many potential readers may find off-putting. However, to get the message of the book it is not necessary to be able to follow the statistical methods. Alison MacEwen Scott explains the main findings clearly in an excellent introduction. The findings are depressingly similar to those of previous research on job segregation by gender, and the main message of the collection is clear: the labour market is still highly segregated by gender. Indeed, John Lovering indicates that economic restructuring is not resulting in any reduction in the sex-typing of jobs; rather, as the labour market changes there is a shift from emphasising female "dexterity" to an emphasis on female personal skills such as the "friendly waitress" and the "concerned personnel manager".

The main message of the collection is that women continue to be concentrated in lowly paid, low-status, part-time jobs with little prospect for promotion. Job segregation is the dominant experience; at any one time two-thirds of men and three-quarters of women are in jobs solely or mainly performed by workers of the same gender - although, as the detailed analysis of work histories by MacEwen Scott and Brendan Burchell indicates, only a minority of employees never work in mixed-gender occupations. Nevertheless they conclude that most employees spend most of their work time in jobs performed predominantly or only by one gender. Jobs at the top of the manual and non-manual categories are predominantly male, while those at the bottom are predominantly female. A number of chapters also indicate that sexist attitudes continue to influence the labour market, with men being more sexist than women. Sexist attitudes and a belief in natural differences between men and women continue to play a crucial role in stabilising and legitimising segregation in the labour market and may also play a crucial role in limiting the possibilities for change.

Two chapters in the collection are not based on the SCELI data. The one by Rosemary Crompton and Kay Sanderson on the financial sector contains material that has been analysed elsewhere. Scott's on the retail sector in Colchester is extremely interesting and clearly demonstrates the ways in which both "de-skilling" and "job gendering" interact to produce job segregation in shops. The findings also pointed to the ways in which retailers select employees to match the job - jobs not only being gendered but also requiring other qualities. Thus many retail firms prefer to employ middle-aged women rather than young school-leavers, even if the latter are less expensive.

This collection provides interesting, detailed information on the labour market and gender segregation and will be welcomed by social scientists with a specific interest in this area. However, the overall message is the familiar one, and I suspect that few students will struggle with the detailed statistical analysis of the large data set provided in many of the chapters, preferring to rely on Scott's introduction to get the main message.

Pamela Abbott is professor of sociology, University of Derby.

Gender Segregation and Social Change:: Men and Women in Changing Labour Markets

Author - A. Macewen Scott
ISBN - 0 19 8 3932 and 9442
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £40.00 and £14.95
Pages - 374pp

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