Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.
Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.
OCR for page 157
Commentary: Strober's Theory of Occupational Sex Segregation KAREN OPPENHEL\I MASON As Francine Blau's review of the litera- ture in Chapter 7 makes clear, neoclassical economists have had relatively little to tell us about the causes of sex segregation in the American economy. Economists have paid far more attention to the consequences of occupational sex segregation than to its causes and, as often as not, have attributed its ex- istence to unspecified "tastes" or amorphous institutional factors outside the economy. Even when the nature of these tastes or institutional factors has been made con- crete, the explanations offered have often failed to withstand the test of logic or em- pirical analysis. In light of this, Myra Strober's attempted leap beyond the neoclassical in Chapter 8 is to be applauded. By explicitly recognizing that men exploit women and derive various advantages from doing so, Strober has sought to explain the existence and persistence of sex segregation in an economy that in many other ways may operate according to neo- cIassical market principles. Although Strob- er's attempt is not entirely successful, it is nonetheless valuable. Because her theory is straightforward and provocative, it provides an important stimulus to discussion and hence 157 to refining our ideas about the causes of oc- cupational segregation. In what follows, then, I begin by criticizing Strober's theory. I then discuss sociological and economic ideas that, together with Strober's theory, help explain the job segregation ofthe sexes in the Amer- ican economy. Strober's theory lays the ultimate blame for occupational sex segregation on the pa- triarchal system in which men enjoy wom- en's sexual, child-rearing, and domestic services in the household. The immediate blame for segregation, however, is laid on employers, most of whom are men. Em- ployers are said to strive toward two goals (goals that Strober recognizes as potentially contradictory): (1) profit maximization and (2) enforcing the economic dependency of women on men. The latter is of interest to male employers because it provides the ma- terial base for the patriarchal system, i.e., it forces women to become dependent wives and mothers (employers are said to worry about maintaining women's dependency on men in social classes other than their own because threats to patriarchy in the working class may lead to threats to patriarchy within the managerial or capitalist classy. In hiring
OCR for page 158
158 KAREN OPPENHElM MASON workers for their establishments, employers are thus said to concern themselves not only with minimizing their wage bill (the usual neoclassical assumption) but also with min- imizing the risk that women of a given race and class will earn more than the men of that race and class and consequently will no longer be dependent on them and forced to marry them. How do employers meet the double goals of profit maximization and of ensuring wom- en's dependency on men? They do so, Strober argues, by offering all new jobs first to men, at a wage determined by conditions in the local labor market. These jobs are offered to women only if men refuse to take them. Strober in turn argues that men's willing- ness to take particular jobs depends entirely on economic considerations: Unlike their bosses, male workers are strictly profit max- imizers. Thus, if they can earn more money elsewhere, male workers wit! turn down the jobs that a particular employer offers them. The result is that the poorer-paying jobs are left for women, the better-paying jobs hav- ing been snatched up by men. Strober's the- ory thus suggests why there is a wage gap between the sexes as well as occupational sex segregation. There are several points in Strober's the- ory with which I agree and for which there is fairly good empirical evidence. Women in this society are without question econom- ically disadvantaged compared with men, and this situation is hardly an accident of history or nature. There are obvious ideo- logical (Williams and Best, 1982), legal (Ka- nowitz, 1969), and informal mechanisms (Bernard, 1971:88-102) that maintain the system producing this disadvantage and that continue to do so even in the face of major protest movements. Most employers today are men and as men can be suspected of having a stake in the system of male privi- lege (Goode, 19821. There also are a. least two fairly clear historical examples of oc- cupational abandonment and succession— instances in which men left one line of work when new and better-paying jobs opened up, leaving the old line of work to be filled by women: school teaching and clerical work (see Oppenheimer, 1970:77-79; Davies, 1982: 56-581. Nevertheless, while containing sound elements, Strober's theory has several prob- lems. Although it attempts to go beyond standard neoclassical assumptions, it retains enough of these assumptions to encounter one of the most serious problems that neo- ciassical explanations for sex discrimination tend to face, namely, the seemingly coun- terfactual prediction that sex segregation will gradually disappear. Moreover, whether Strober's theory can explain the extremely high levels of occupational sex segregation observed in our economy and preserved through decades of industrial change is un- clear. And for the historical period for which it seems intencled, Strober's theory is in sev- eral key respects surprisingly implausible. Finally, whether an entirely new theory of occupational sex segregation is needled is open to debate. Let me elaborate on each ofthese points. THE PROBLEM OF THE DEMISE OF SEX SEGREGATION As Blau (Chapter 7 in this volume) and others (e.g., Stevenson, 1978) have noted, most neoclassical theories of occupational segregation imply that it will gradually dis- appear because nondiscriminatory employ- ers or firms will be at an economic advantage over other firms and will consequently ex- perience greater growth. This implied dis- appearance of segregation is problematic, however, because occupational segregation has in fact remained firmly entrenched in our economy for over a century (Oppen- heimer, 1970:64-77; Gross, 1968; Williams, 1979; Matthaei, 1982:187-2321. Strober's theory suffers the same prob- lem. In an economy in which employers typ- ically offer new jobs to men first, withhol(l- ing them from women until such time as
OCR for page 159
COMMENTARY 159 men have refused to take them, an employer who offers jobs to women first is likely to minimize his wage bill much more success- fully than will discriminatory employers, be- cause women's wages will have been driven downward by other employers' discrimina- tory practices. Over time, then, any em- ployer whose desire for profits outweighs his desire for maintaining patriarchy is likely to undercut competing firms, thereby experi- encing greater growth. The long-run impli- cation is that such firms will succeed and discriminatory firms will fail, meaning that occupational sex segregation should gradu- ally disappear. THE PROBLEM OF EXIREME SEGREGATION There is considerable evidence to suggest that the occupational segregation of the sexes in our economy is extreme. Studies of de- tailed occupations—which aggregate jobs and hence tend to underestimate the true extent of job segregation show that at least two-thirds of male or female workers would have to switch occupational categories for the sexes to achieve identical occupational distributions (e.g., Williams, 19791. More- over, studies conducted at the industry or firm level (e.g., Blau, 1977; Bielby and Baron, Chapter 3 in this volume) suggest an even higher level of segregation. To be plausible, then, a theory of job segregation must read- ily explain not only the existence of some sex segregation in our economy but also the existence of extreme segregation. A closer look at Strober's theory raises doubts on this score. The basic tenets of Strober's theory can be interpreted in terms of a system of job and worker queues and their mapping onto each other within the labor market. In the simplest case, there is one job queue and one worker queue. In the job queue, jobs are ordered according to wage level, while in the worker queue, workers are ordered according to gender, and within gender cat- egories, according to "qualifications." Em- ployers and the market then function to cre- ate a one-to-one mapping between the two queues, with the best-qualified male worker getting the best-paying job and the best- qualified female worker getting a lower-pay- ing job than any male worker. Although this mode] implies the existence of job segregation between the sexes (or at least does so if we assume a tight connection between jobs and wage rates), the magni- tude of the segregation implied will depend on where the divide between the sexes falls in the job queue. If the divide happens to coincide with the divide between two dif- ferent jobs, there will be perfect segregation of the sexes. If it does not, however, there will be some degree of job integration, the precise degree depending on the number of positions in the job that straddles the divide between men and women in the worker queue (if there is a very large number of positions, a substantial portion of the work force may ens! up employed in the inte- grated job). ~ To be sure, the notion that an entire labor market can be ordered into a single job and a single worker queue is unrealistic. Never- theless, even if we imagine labor markets consisting of multiple job and worker queues, a mapping process of the kind described here seems likely to result in some degree of job integration, possibly far more integration than is in fact observed in our economy. Only if there are separate male and female job and worker queues, as some scholars believe ~ Throughout this commentary, I distinguish be- tween a job which is a particular bundle of tasks as- signed to individual workers in a given industry or firm- and a position, which represents one slot in a given job. There are certain jobs that involve only one position (e.g., President of the United States), but most jobs involve multiple positions. Hence, it is quite pos- sible in the queue-matching system that Strober's the- ory implies for the divide between men and women within the worker queue to fall in the middle of a multipositioned job, thereby producing sexual integra- tion of that particular job.
OCR for page 160
160 KAREN OPPENHEIM MASON there are (e.g., Edwards, 1975), is the high level of segregation observed in our econ- omy likely to occur. Thus, whether the basic tenets of Strober's theory necessarily imply the existence of high levels of job segrega- tion is unclear. Perhaps in recognition of this possibility, Strober supplements her theory's basic ten- ets with a set of ad hoc arguments about the actions both employers and male workers are likely to take once a job has become substantially but not entirely occupied by men. Strober argues that employers in this situation can pursue two courses. They can either fill the remaining positions with women workers, but pay them less than the male workers in the job in order to keep the women in an economically inferior position, or they can raise the job's wage level in order to try to attract men into the remaining positions.2 While the first ofthese strategies will clearly maintain women's economic inferiority to men, it will not result in sexual segregation of the job. Thus, for her theory to imply a high level of job segregation, Strober must argue that employers will prefer the second strategy to the first. Strober offers three reasons why employ- ers might want to raise wages in order to make heavily male jobs entirely male. The first reason, which Strober states very cur- sorily, is that hiring women (even at an in- ferior wage) "would erode the principles of patriarchy and male privilege." It is unclear why the hiring of women at lower wages would erode patriarchy, since in Strober's theory the inferior earnings of women are apparently sufficient to maintain patriarchal relations. This first reason, then, is uncon- · . vlnclng. Strober's second reason for suggesting that employers will prefer to hire men is that hiring women "might violate possible socie- 2 There is actually a third option that I am ignoring here, only because it does not change Strober's theory materially that is, that the employer's attempt to hire foreign or immigrant labor. tat taboos about the two sexes working to- gether on certain jobs." Although this is an intriguing suggestion, just how common such taboos are and whether they can explain the existence of high levels of segregation in the workplace is unclear.3 Strober herself seems to think that the enforcement of such taboos is probably not the sole explanation for why employers prefer to hire men for jobs that are already heavily mate; she describes the taboos as "possible" and pertaining only to "certain jobs." Moreover, whether job seg- regation and physical separation are nec- essarily coterminous is unclear. Indeed, it is probably just as common for workers in a given job to work at some distance from each other (e. g., parts inspectors who work in different locales within a plant) or for male and female workers in distinct jobs to work in close physical proximity to each other (e.g., a female secretary and her male boss) as it is for workers in the same job to work side by side while those in different jobs work apart from each other. Thus, although re- search into taboos against mixed-sex work groups would be usefill (as Strober notes), the ability of these taboos to explain the high level of segregation observed in our econ- omy seems doubtful. Strober's final reason for suggesting that employers will fill an already largely male job with men is little more compelling than the first two reasons. It is that hiring women "would . . . interfere with male bonding." I am uncertain what "male bonding" is sup- posed to refer to (it smacks of reductionist 3 The reason for the existence of these taboos is also not entirely clear. Presumably, a fear of illicit sexual relations is what motivates any desire to ensure that men and women do not work side by side. A desire on men's part to maintain social distance from their status inferiors (women), however, might be just as impor- tant. In this case, however, the functional i.e., job separation of the sexes would presumably be more important than would their physical separation; and male workers would be as concerned with maintaining patriarchy as with maximizing their economic gain (con- trary to Strober's main theoretical tenets).
OCR for page 161
COMMENTARY 16 arguments about men's psychological "needs" or"masculine instincts," the existence of which is questionable). It is hard to believe that employers operating in a competitive and largely unregulated economy (the sit- uation that Strober seems to be referring to) would deliberately raise their wage bill sim- ply because hiring women might "interfere with mate bonding."4 Thus, in the final anal- ysis, the willingness of employers to fill sub- stantially male jobs with more expensive male workers rather than turning to cheaper fe- male workers remains unclear. If it is implausible that employers are the ones likely to ensure that high levels of job segregation exist, then in Strober's theory it must be male workers who do so (the only other possible creators of segregation are women, but in Strober's theory women are assumed to be powerless in the labor mar- ket). Strober's description of how male workers reinforce or increase segregation is as follows: Once an occupation has been "typed" as male (a process that seems to be inevitable, though for reasons Strober does not make clear), men "will actively and col- lectively seek to keep women out, fearing that if women enter, they will lower the earnings of the job by accepting lower wage rates or, if they are paid the same as men, diminish patriarchal hegemony." It is unfortunate that Strober does not explicate these ideas further, since a num- ber of questions remain unanswered. Why, for example, must male workers fear wom- , . . `` . ,, . . ~ en s Incursion into t Heir occupations ~ em- ployers are no less interested in ensuring women's economic inferiority than the male workers are? (Indeed, Strober initially im- plies that employers are more concerned 4 It plausibly might do so were male workers to press for the exclusion of women through organized protests or political action (something that Strober later sug- gests they may indeed do). In this section of her argu- ment, however, Strober is apparently concerned only with employers' own interests, not with the necessity of giving in to certain political pressures from male workers. about preserving the sexual "purity" of oc- cupations than the male workers are.) And what will male workers gain by preserving "patriarchal hegemony" (which is undefined but which I assume means monopolizing all the positions in a given job)? Male workers may, of course, fear that their boss's desire to earn profits will overcome his desire to bolster the patriarchal system, thereby lead- ing him to replace male workers with less expensive female workers. But this possi- bility raises a more fundamental problem with Strober's theory, namely, how employ- ers resolve the tension between the goals of profit maximization and maintaining patriar- chy. In the end, then, Strober's attempts to ensure that her theory implies the existence of a high level of job segregation raise as many questions as they answer. THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT' Although Strober does not spell out the precise historical period her theory is sup- posed to cover, it seems to pertain primarily to conditions in the mid to late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, i.e., prior to any significant state intervention into the free market economy for the purpose of reg- ulating employment conditions.5 In this context, Strober's theory seems implausible in three respects. First, because the econ- s This is certainly the period to which the example of school teaching pertains and is also the period during which much of the sex typing found in today's labor market was established (Oppenheimer, 1970:64-120; Snyder and Hudis, 1976~. Moreover, Strober's con- cluding remarks about the impact of equal employment opportunity legislation suggest that state intervention in the free marketplace may change the terms of her theory (although only if that intervention takes partic- ular forms). Finally, even if Strober intends her theory to be atemporal, it is important to recognize that the sex segregation of the economy has a history and that the processes influencing the economy can change over time. For all ofthese reasons, I have chosen to interpret Strober's theory as though it was primarily intended to describe late nineteenth and early twentieth century conditions, even if Strober herself did not have this explicitly in mind when creating the theory.
OCR for page 162
162 KAREN OPPENHEIM MASON omy to which she refers was more highly competitive than is the monopoly economy of the twentieth century, the assumption that employers would be willing or able to forgo profits in the interests of maintaining domestic patriarchy seems especially open to question. One can envision firms rela- tively insulated from free market pressures making this choice, but it is much harder to envision small, struggling firms in the un- regulated marketplace doing so.6 Also relatively difficult to accept in the nineteenth-century context is the notion that employers wishing to ensure that women earn less than men would bother with the complex procedure that Strober describes, i. e., offering jobs to men first, waiting to see if all positions are filled by men, etc. In the nineteenth century, there seems to have been little feeling that employed women de- served the same wages or job opportunities as men (Smuts, 1959:110-142; Kessler-Har- ris, 1981:54-701. Hence, a much easier strat- egy for the employer wishing to pay women less would have been to do just that: pay women less than men, regardless of the job. To be sure, in some situations this strategy might have required inventing separate job titles for women and men, so that the dis- parity in wages between the sexes could be masked or socially justified. But employers seem perfectly capable of inventing separate job titles or pay grades when they want to (e.g., Newman, 19761. Thus, even if we are willing to believe that nineteenth-century employers were interested in ensuring that women were paid less than men, whether they would have used the system Strober describes is questionable. Indeed, because a straightforward system of wage discrimi- 6 It is interesting that the particular occupation Strober studies is found in the public sector and hence does not involve the same competitive forces that affect pri- vate sector employment. The assumption that employ- ers are willing (and able) to forgo profits in order to help maintain patriarchy may be more realistic in the public sector than in the private one. nation wouIc] have helped minimize some employers' wage bills, there is every reason to think employers would have preferred this approach to the "first dibs to men" ap- proach that Strober outlines. Only with the creation of state-enforced regulations re- quiring equal pay for equal work does the approach Strober describes become more plausible. A final point that is implausible in the nineteenth-century context is the idea that male employers would try to maintain wom- en's economic inferiority in social classes other than their own. Strober's argument here is akin to a domino theory of political change. If working-class women are allowed to be- come economically independent from the men of their class and are consequently freed from the need to marry and serve them, then upper-cIass women might be inspired to follow their working-cIass sisters down the road to independence. Thus, even though most male employers would never seek to have their sons marry working-class women, they are said to be motivated to maintain gender inequality in the working class out of concern for their own position vis-a-vis upper-class women. While there may be some validity to this idea in historical periods when feminist con- sciousness transcends class barriers, the idea seems implausible for the late nineteenth century, when most upper-class women ap- parently had little sense of identification with their working-class sisters or at best had a highly patronizing identification that made clear their own social superiority. Certainly, upper-class women in this period were will- ing to exploit the working-cIass women they hired as domestic servants, often treating them with little consideration or with the sense that the servant girl had much in com- mon with the lady of the house (Katzman, 1978:158-1731. Moreover, although nine- teenth-century working-cIass women did not earn as much money as did working-cIass men, in some parts of the country these women worked in large numbers (Mason et
OCR for page 163
COMMENTARY 163 al., 1978). Yet despite this, upper-class women in these areas remained firmly de- voted to the "cult of domesticity" and, by implication, to the patriarchal system. Working-cIass women's relative independ- ence thus seems to have posed little threat to upper-cIass women's commitment to re- maining laclies and hence economically de- pendent on their husbands.7 This makes the idea that upper-class men would have cut into profits in order to ensure the economic inferiority of working-class women seem im- plausible. FURTHER PROBLEMATIC ASSUMPTIONS Strober's theory contains two other as- sumptions that are questionable. The first is that the wage gap was the only or by far the most important prop for the patriarchal system in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although Strober no- where states this assumption explicitly, it is implicit in her argument that, in order to maintain patriarchy, employers acted to en- sure the existence of a wage gap. (If patriar- 7 This is not surprising, since it was working-class women who tended to accept middle-class norms about a woman's place, rather than the reverse. Most evi- dence suggests that when women did go to work in the late nineteenth century, they justified doing so in terms of their future domestic roles or current family needs (Smuts, 1959; Matthaei, 1982; Kessler-Harris, 1981, 1982~. In other words, the working-class girl who worked in a factory or went into service did not see herself as becoming independent from a potential husband (though she did sometimes see herself gaining partial inde- pendence from her family of origin). Rather, work for most working-class girls was an interlude between childhood and marriage, during which they helped sup- port their families, increased their prospects for a "good" marriage by being able to afford a good wardrobe, or learned skills that were argued to be helpful to their future roles as housewives and mothers. It is, there- fore, not surprising that upper-class women failed to become feminists in the face of high labor force par- ticipation rates among their working-class sisters; they already enjoyed the amenities to which these working- class women aspired. chy could be maintained in other ways, why would employers cut into profits in order to over jobs to men first?) Although women's inferior earnings may have contributed to the patriarchal system in nineteenth-century society, there were other institutional factors that also did so. Among these were the laws and judicial precedents that made women the legal and political (as well as economic) inferiors of men (Kanowitz, 1969:35-93) and a host of norms, customs, and culturally transmitted beliefs that taught women to orient them- seIves exclusively toward careers as wives and mothers and to otherwise behave in a manner consistent with their label as the "weaker" sex (Kessler-Harris, 1982:49-531. These forces seem to have been no less im- portant than the dismal wages and dead-end jobs available to women in convincing them that marriage and motherhood were the most satisfactory careers (Matthaei, 1982:101-140; Kessler-Harris, 1982:20-72, passim). Given this, whether upper-class men would have acted against their economic self-interests in order to produce a wage gap between working-cIass women and men seems ques- tionable. The other problematic assumption im- plicit in Strober's theory is that, in the con- text of the labor market, men were more interested in maintaining the domestic di- vision of labor between the sexes than any other aspect of the patriarchal system, in- cluding the general male prerogative to con- tro} women and receive deference from them. True, even when acting as employers or as workers, men may have been interested in ensuring that women, as a class, were kept in an economically inferior position and hence forced to participate in a patriarchal family system. But it seems equally likely that, when acting as employers or workers, men were concerned about keeping women in their place on the job, i.e., ensuring that no woman would outrank or could give orders to a (na- tive white) man. To the extent this was true, it makes little
OCR for page 164
164 KAREN OPPENHEIM MASON sense to think that employers offered all new jobs to men first. To be sure, if a job in- volved authority over other workers or, given the temporary nature of most women's work (Matthaei, 1982:195-196), required conti- nuity of employment, then employers no doubt offered it to men. However, if a job was routine, easily learned, and neither re- quired long-term employment nor involved control over other (male) workers, then em- ployers had no reason not to offer it first to women (Matthaei, 1982:1961. Indeed, there are historical cases in the textile and clothing industries, as well as in clerical and sales jobs, in which this appears to be exactly what happened (Kessler-Harris, 1982:142- 1791. This makes a theory that rests on the assumption that all new jobs are offered first to men untenable. IS A NEW THEORY OF OCCUPATIONAL SEGREGATION BY SEX NEEDED? Strober begins her paper by arguing that existing theories of sex segregation in the workplace are inadequate. None of these theories, she states, is "capable of answering the three major questions concerning the gender designation of an occupation: its or- igin, its maintenance, and its change, if any." Athough Strober is narrowly correct no single theory in existence at the time her paper was written could adequately explain the origins and persistence of sex segrega- tion in our economy I am not convinced that a new theory of occupational segrega- tion is needed. The old theories, although incomplete and not always systematic, nonetheless offer considerable insight into the segregation of the workplace, especially when considered together. Indeed, in my judgment, these "old" ideas more persua- sively suggest why sex segregation is both extreme and enduring than does Strober's theory. To argue this claim, I will first re- view three of the most important ideas in the sociological, economic, and historical lit- eratures about the origins or maintenance of sex segregation and will then attempt an integration of these three ideas. The first idea or set of ideas is the most amorphous, but it is also the most impor- tant. It is that an "ideology of gender" or normative/cultural system lies behind and guides both men's and women's behavior and in so doing tends to separate the roles and activities of the sexes, including their occupational roles (Reskin and Hartmann, 1984:Ch. 2; di Leonardo, 1982~. Basic pre- cepts in the American ideology of gender include (1) the assumption that the sexes are inherently different from each other in char- acter, temperament, and capacity; (2) the specific perception that women are naturally suited to be mothers, soothers, supporters, andJor pets, while men are suited to be ad- venturers, leaders, fighters, and doers (Wil- liams and Best, 19821; (3) the evaluation that the feminine is of lower prestige (less im- portant) than the masculine and that for men to engage in feminine activities or pursuits is consequently highly stigmatizing (more so than for women to engage in masculine ac- tivities or pursuits, although that, too, is stigmatizing); and (4) the assumption that men have the right to control women and women have the obligation to acquiesce in this control (Collins, 19711. Because gender is usually the first social identity learned by children, precepts such as these are strongly and often uncon- sciously cherished by both sexes. To the ex- tent that this is true, such precepts are likely to shape virtually every decision made by women and men that affects the jobs into which they are recruited. This means that, once a set of occupations has been "typed" or labeled as appropriate for one sex only, these labels are likely to persist over time (unIess revolutionary forces disturb them). The fact that most individuals in society are socialized to an ideology of gender that emphasizes the oppositeness of the sexes may also help explain why occupations are sex-typed or labeled in the first place. If one's social respectability and sense of self-
OCR for page 165
COMMENTARY 165 respect depend on behaving in a manner appropriate to one's gender (and inappro- priate to the other gender), then working at jobs that members of the opposite sex work at may be degrading. Matthaei (1982:194) has argued that this was a critical influence on job segregation in the nineteenth cen- tury: Employment in a clearly masculine job, doing a job done by other men, fortified a man's sense of manhood; competition with these men to do the job well, or unification with them against the "big man," the employer, actively expressed and measured his manhood.... tOn the over halted,] doing a job that women also performed expressed a man's similarity with the opposite sex, showed him to be womanly and feminine. Likewise, women wished to work in jobs done by women. A woman's femininity was already threatened by her presence in the labor force, the masculine sphere. . . . If a woman was forced to seek wages outside of the home she would seek jobs which were clearly woman's work. In other words, individual men and women, in seeking work, may have created or con- tributed to their own segregation by avoid- ing employment in sexually integrated jobs. Other ways in which the ideology of gender may have influenced the occupational seg- regation of the sexes in the nineteenth and early to mid twentieth centuries are noted below. The second idea that can help explain oc- cupational sex segregation in our society is the concept of statistical discrimination. Be- cause this concept is reviewed elsewhere in this volume (see Chapter 7), I wit! not at- tempt a full summary here. Suffice it to note that when employers pay for the training of workers, the perception that women are more likely than men to leave the labor force in order to marry or rear children may explain why employers are reluctant to hire women for these positions. Employers may also be reluctant to hire women for supervisory po- sitions if they believe (as they are likely to) that this violates the natural order between the sexes or places women in positions for which they are inherently unsuited. The no- tion of statistical discrimination thus sug- gests how the ideology of gender and the reality of most women's and men's lives is likely to influence employers' behavior and thereby contribute to the sexual seg- regation of the work force. While it is clear that statistical discrimination cannot explain all forms of job segregation (e.g., that which occurs among unskilled workers doing equally heavy or light tasks), this concept nonethe- less points to an important process likely to contribute to the segregation of male and female workers. The final set of ideas relevant to uncler- standing the sex segregation of the economy derives from Edna Bonacich's (1972) theory of the split labor market. The basic tenet of this theory, which was originally created to explain the existence of ethnic antagonism, is that there often are three significant classes in conflict within capitalist labor markets, not just the two that Marx identified: (1) the capitalists or employers, who are concerned with maximizing profits (a point on which Marxist and neoclassical economists seem to agree); (2) the high-priced "established" workers who, through political organization and struggle, have managed to wrest some degree of economic security from the cap- itaTist class and who are interested in main- taining or improving this economic security; and (3) the low-priced workers, i.e., socially identifiable groups who, for a variety of rea- sons, are unable or unwilling to demand as high a wage as the established workers earn and whose primary concern is simply find- ing a job, rather than achieving a particular level of economic security. In Bonacich's theory, there are three basic dynamics in the split labor market: (1) the capitalists try to minimize their wage bflIs and consequently try to replace high-priced labor with low-pricecl labor; (2) the low-priced workers try to find jobs; and (3) the high- priced workers struggle to protect them- seIves from the incursion of the low-priced workers. Bonacich argues that established
OCR for page 166
166 C a, ~ 5 -— Q C~ C ~ - i\ ~ o Q \ \ Q . _ ~ Y ~ G. Q ~ S: ' ~ C~ a E ~ o ~ 5 0 25 ~ C~ ·— 5 a' ~ .- \ - - - \ ~ _ _ _ Y , ~ ~ 5 ~ C) ° - E s - s E 2 ~ ~ - E c o ° ~ ~m o -' o C ~ oo ~ ~x y O ~n a) ~ ~_ C" ,~, ~ o o `
. E E ,: ~ ~ ~
.O C, .=
~ G) Q <~~ .c)
O) ~ Q Q `,,
C) ~ .O Q X ~>
= ~ = E~o~C _
~ O ~ ~ . -
._ GO Q ~ .> Q
OCR for page 167
COMMENTARY 167 workers use two strategies in attempting to protect themselves from the low-priced workers: exclusion and the creation of caste systems. In other words, established work- ers can either try to exclude low-priced la- bor from the labor market entirely (this is sometimes done via restrictive immigration laws) or they can try to restrict low-priced labor to a narrow range of poorly paid oc- cupations in which they have little interest. In the nineteenth century, women were low-priced workers compared with native white males. Women typically worked tem- porarfly, before they were married, and usually worked as supplemental earners (in many occupations, including school teach- ing, the wages they earned were often in- sufficient to live on; Manhaei, 1982:187-232~. For these reasons, women were usually wfl~- ing to work for much lower wages than were men; they were also less frequently involved in labor actions (though there were notable instances in which women formed unions or participated in strikes; e. g., Dawley, 1976~. While the "cheapness" of female labor did not always threaten male workers, there are well-documented cases in which it did and in which organized groups of male workers responded by attempting to ensure that their own jobs could not be taken over by women (e.g., by pressing for the passage of protec- tive labor legislation; see Hartmann, 1976; Matthaei, 1982:217~. One effect of this was to segregate women into certain poorly paid occupations that native white males were uninterested in. While the actions of male labor unions in response to the perceived threat of"cheap" female (and immigrant) labor cannot alone explain the occupational segregation of the sexes, it seems to have been one force that helped create and main- tain this segregation. Figure 9-1 depicts what I think is the most historically accurate and sociologically rea- sonable integration of these three sets of ideas. In the mid-nineteenth century the were preferred to men as domestic servants, period when women as well as men began partly because they could be hired for less entering wage work in large numbers the money but also because they usually had ideology of women's and men's separate spheres was already well establisher} (Kes- sler-Harris, 1982:20-72~. For married adults the division of labor between the sexes matched this ideology, with women devot- ing themselves for most of their married lives to domestic work and men to work in the paid labor force. That this ideology and di- vision of labor was already in place seems to have had three consequences. The first was that when young women and men sought work they tencled to look for jobs that were known as women's or men's work, or, if the jobs were very new, that gave every indi- cation of becoming women's or men's work (e.g., because the employer advertised for members of one sex only, as was typical in the nineteenth century). In other words, the first path through which the division of labor between the sexes and the ideology of sep- arate spheres influenced the sexual segre- gation of the work force was by influencing young men's ant] women's own occupational choices (Matthaei, 1982:194~. Second, as the concept of statistical dis- crimination suggests, the ideology of sepa- rate spheres and the division of labor be- tween the sexes also influenced the actions of various occupational "gatekeepers"— employers, schoolteachers, employment agencies, and the householders who hired domestic servants. One such influence may have been the one Strober emphasizes, namely, a tendency to favor men in the hir- ing process in order to maintain the primacy of wage work as part of the masculine sphere. However, occupational gatekeepers' preju- dices probably had other effects on the oc- cupational segregation of the sexes as well. Most important was a tendency to offer jobs to one sex only according to that sex's sup- posedly unique talents and traits or accord- ing to the structural position they were to occupy within the workplace. For example, in the period after the Civil War, women
OCR for page 168
168 KAREN OPPENHEIM MASON prior experience. That they were normally supervises! by a Woman also meant that re- lationships between mistress ant! servant were much less strained than if the servant was a male (Matthaei, 1982:1981. Likewise, men were preferred for indus- trial jobs that involved on-thejob authority or that required a commitment to the firm or the establishment (Matthaei, 1982:1961. Not only was it highly inappropriate for a woman to supervise others outside her own home, but also women typically worked only sporadically and usually quit altogether when they married. Consequently, they could not be expected to take on a responsible position that required considerable on-thejob train- ing or at least employers were unwilling to offer them such jobs (most women may have been uninterested in them, too; see Mat- thaei, 1982:1941. In various ways, then, the perceptions of the sexes that occupational gatekeepers developed during their social- ization to the ideology of separate spheres or by simply observing how most women and men in fact led their lives led them to hire or direct members of each sex to the jobs that seemed appropriate for them. The third influence of the sexual division of labor and ideology of separate spheres on the job segregation of the sexes was to cheapen the price of female labor compared with male labor. The fact that women were willing to work for less money than were most native white men can be seen as a direct outgrowth of the gender division of labor during this period of history. Because women viewed wage work as a temporary condition designed to help their families (or to pay for extras such as new clothes), they were willing to work for lower wages than were men, for whom work was a central, lifelong commitment (Matthaei, 1982:193- 1971. As Bonacich's theory and the historical record both suggest, this led organized groups of male workers to work for women's re- moval from certain jobs, something that no doubt contributed to the overall segregation of the sexes in the workplace. The cheapness of female labor may also have contributed to the segregation of the sexes through another route. This was by encouraging employers to hire only women for jobs for which skills and on-thejob au- thority were minimal and the costs of labor turnover were also low. In other words, em- ployers sought female workers not only be- cause they perceived them to be inherently suites! to particular kinds of work but also because women workers were inexpensive.8 While it is impossible to gauge the impact this had on occupational segregation com- pared with the impact of male and female workers' own occupational choices and the choices of employers dictated by their per- ceptions of women's versus men's traits or patterns of employment, it seems clear that it contributed to the segregation of the sexes in the nineteenth and early to mid twentieth centuries. In summary, several distinct processes stemming from the acceptance of a partic- ular definition of masculine and feminine roles and temperaments in American society appear to underlie the segregation of the sexes within the workplace. If Matthaei (1982), Kessler-Harris (1982), and other his- torians are to be believed, women and men themselves helped create the segregation of the workplace by seeking jobs in which only their own sex worked. The tendency to choose a job labeled appropriate for one's own sex was exacerbated by the actions of employers and other occupational gatekeep- ers who, in keeping with the same precepts of masculine and feminine behaviors and the real differences between women's and 8 Marxist theorists also argue that employers hired men and women for different jobs as part of a strategy of labor market segmentation designed to keep the working class weak by creating divisions within it (e.g., Edwards, 1975~. As Strober notes, while employers may indeed have used this strategy, why they chose gender as one of the bases on which to segment the labor market is not readily explained by their desires to weaken the power of the working class.
OCR for page 169
COMMENTARY 169 men's motives for working and patterns of employment frequently sought workers of only one sex for particular jobs. Finally, organized groups of male workers further reinforced the segregation of the sexes by acting to ensure that women could not enter their occupations and thereby lower their wages. Because individual workers, em- ployers, and organized groups of male work- ers all acted in ways that produced a sepa- ration of the sexes within the workplace, the extreme degree to which the American economy is sexually segregated should not be surprising. Nor should the incredibly slow speec! at which sex segregation has changed over the past century (Williams, 1979~. The main implication of the views I have presented for the future of occupational seg- regation between the sexes is very similar to the point with which Strober ends her paper. Occupational segregation is unlikely to disappear or even lessen appreciably un- less major revisions occur in our ideology of gender ant! the division of labor between the sexes. To be sure, some changes in gen- der ideology and in the male-female division of labor have occurred during the past four decades (e.g., Mason et al., 1976; Waite, 19811. And there are starting to be some noticeable changes in occupational segre- gation as well (see Chapter 2 in this volume), perhaps as a result of the ideological shifts. However, unless we give up our idea that men and women are inalienable opposites, more dissimilar than alike, we are unlikely to see the disappearance of occupational segregation between the sexes. Ultimately, job segregation is just a part of the generally separate (and unequal) lives that women and men in our society lead, and, unless the overall separateness is ended, the separate- ness within the occupational system is un- likely to end, either. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I thank Barbara Reskin and Louise Tilly for their helpful comments on an earlier ver- sion of this paper and Madelon Weber and Mary Scott for their typing assistance. REFERENCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY Bernard, Jessie 1971 Women and the Public Interest. Chicago: A1- dine-Atherton. Blau, Francine D. 1977 Equal Pay in the Office. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books. Bonacich, Edna 1972 "A theory of ethnic antagonism: The split labor market." American Sociological Review 37:547- 559. Collins, Randall 1971 "A conflict theory of sexual stratification." So- cial Problems 19:3-21. Davies, Margery W. 1982 Woman's Place Is at the Typewriter: Office Work and Office Workers, 1870-1930. Phila- delphia: Temple University Press. Dawley, Alan 1976 Class and Community: The Industrial Revo- uffon in Lynn. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. de Leonardo, Micaela 1982 "Occupational segregation and cultural analy- sis." Washington, D.C.: Paper presented at the Workshop on Job Segregation by Sex, Committee on Women's Employment and Re- lated Social Issues, National Research Council, May 25. Edwards, Richard C. 1975 "The social relations of production in the firm and labor market structure." Pp. 3-26 in Rich- ard C. Edwards, Michael Reich, and David M. Gordon, eds., Labor Market Segmentation. Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath. Goode, William J. 1982 "Why men resist." Pp. 131-150 in Barrie Thorne with Marilyn Yalom, eds., Rethinking the Family: Some Feminist Questions. New York: Longman. Gross, Edward 1968 "Plus pa change . . .? The sexual structure of occupations over ffme." Social Problems 16:198- 208. Hartmann, Heidi 1976 "Capitalism, patriarchy, and job segregation by sex." Pp. 137-169 in Martha Blaxall and Barbara Reagan, eds., Women and the Work- place: The Implications of Occupational Seg- regaffon. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Kanowitz, Leo 1969 Women and the Law: The Unfinished Revo- lution. Albuquerque: University of New Mex- ico Press. Katzman, David M. 1978 Seven Days a Week: Women and Domestic
OCR for page 170
170 KAREN OPPENHEIM MASON Service in Industrializing America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Kessler-Harris, Alice 1981 Women Have Always Worked: A Historical Overview. Old Westbury, N.Y.: The Feminist Press. 1982 Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States. New York: Ox- ford University Press. Mason, Karen Oppenheim, John L. Czajka, and Sara Arber 1976 "Change in U.S. women's sex-role attitudes, 1964-1974." American Sociological Review 41 (August): 573-596. Mason, Karen Oppenheim, Maris A. Vinovskis, and Tamara K. Hareven 1978 "Women's work and the life course in Essex County, Massachusetts, 1880." Pp. 187-216 in Tamara K. Hareven, ea., Transitions: The Family and the Life Course in Historical Per- spective. New York: Academic Press. Matthaei, Julie A. 1982 An Economic History of Women in America: Women's Work, the Sexual Division of Labor, and the Development of Capitalism. New York: Schocken Books. Newman, Winn 1976 "The policy issues. Presentation III." Pp. 265- 272 in Martha Blaxall and Barbara Reagan, eds., Women and the Workplace: The Implications of Occupational Segregation. Chicago: Uni- versity of Chicago Press. Oppenheimer, Valerie Kincade 1970 The Female Labor Force in the United States: Demographic and Economic Factors Govern- ing Its Growth and Changing Composition. Berkeley: University of California, Institute of International Studies, Population Monograph Series, No. 5. Reskin, Barbara, and Heidi I. Hartmann, eds. 1984 Men's Work, Women's Work: Sex Segregation on the Job. Committee on Women's Employ- ment and Related Social Issues. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Smuts, Robert W. 1959 Women and Work in America. New York: Co- lumbia University Press. Snyder, David, and Paula M. Hudis 1976 "Occupational income and the effects of mi- nority competition and segregation: A reana- lysis and some new evidence." American So- ciological Review 41(April):209-234. Stevenson, Mary Huff 1978 "Wage differences between men and women: Economic theories." Pp. 89-107 in Ann H. Stromberg and Shirley Harkess, eds., Women Working: Theories and Facts in Perspective. Palo Alto, Calif.: Mayfield Publishing Co. Waite, Linda J. 1981 "U.S. women at work." Population Bulletin 36~2~. Williams, Gregory 1979 "The changing U.S. labor force and occupa- tional differentiation by sex." Demography 16(February):73-87. Williams, John E., and Deborah L. Best 1982 Measuring Sex Stereotypes: A Thirty-Nation Study. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications.
Representative terms from entire chapter: