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Suggested Citation:"12 Commentary." National Research Council. 1984. Sex Segregation in the Workplace: Trends, Explanations, Remedies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/58.
Page 233
Suggested Citation:"12 Commentary." National Research Council. 1984. Sex Segregation in the Workplace: Trends, Explanations, Remedies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/58.
Page 234

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12 Commentary WENDY C. WOLF In Chapter 11, Marini and Brinton pro- vide a very good review of the literature on the multitude of factors that influence the occupational choice of girls prior to entrance into the labor market. My perspective is that the goal of such a paper should be to identify the most critical or most powerful forces that influence girls' job choices, decide which of these are amenable to policy intervention, and discuss what strategies are effective to intervene in these processes. In light of that goal, a few general comments are in order. The forces that impinge on job choice for girls are many, strong, and cumulative. Their cumulativeness is important to remember when considering points of intervention. If one intervenes early in a girl's life, there are myriad other forces that act on her before she gets to the point of making a job choice. Changing one aspect of the system rarely has, or for that matter should be expected to have, marked impact on the ultimate job choice. For example, we know that text- books affect girls in some way. So do coun- selors. But changing one textbook, or text- books in one course, or changing counselors in one school in one year, is not likely to have a significant impact on girls' occupa- 233 tional choices. Many have tried small ex- periments to change one aspect of a girl's educational experience lo and behold, they don't fincI any impact. This is not very sur- prising. Even if there is an intervention in one or two areas, there are always other factors that in fact reinforce occupational choices that are sex typed or views about appropriate roles for girls. The second point relates to the issue of premarket versus market forces. It may be a fallacy to neatly separate all forces into two types. There are a number of ways that the labor market fee(ls back information to young girls about appropriate roles for females. It is important, therefore, not to make such a rigid distinction. One area of special importance in Marini and Brinton's review relates to the math/ science issue in high school. Despite recent news articles suggesting that the difference in math/science ability between girls and boys may be due to girls' lack of testoster- one, there is evidence that girls and boys with comparable levels of achievement in math and science at the end of the eighth grade take different amounts of math and science in high school. Enrollment in high

234 WENDY C. WOLF school math and science courses has fairly substantial consequences on the kinds of job choices that are macle at later points. This is one area in which concrete steps can be taken to allow girls to make schooling choices that wit} not limit their access to jobs later. Generally, the cumulativeness of forces makes me a bit skeptical about the success of any one intervention, especially if it is too distant from the time of the actual job choice. The closer to the time of job choice that the intervention is made, the more likely it is to change the job aspirations of girls. What prompts a statement such as this? Looking at a number of nontraditional pro- grams for women makes it clear that one can stimulate the demand for such programs. If told about the advantages and disadvantages of men's jobs, women with high income needs, who are older, who have been out in the labor force, or who have been in tra- ditionally female jobs that are low paying wit} respond with interest. At least enough persons will respond} to fill openings. The demand for nontraditional work can be stim- ulated. This may be one of the reasons that, looking at college students or young girls, one doesn't observe much of a change over time in sex-typed occupational aspirations. Once women have been working for a while and have had some negative experiences, they are more willing to entertain nontra- ditional career options than at younger ages, when peer group pressures are important forces reinforcing traditionally female aspi- rations. There is anecdotal evidence (and we need more concrete empirical evidence) that at least for women with high income needs, one can stimulate the demand for nontra- ditional training and employment, despite years of socialization. Nevertheless, there is variation in aspirations for nontraditional oc- cupational choices (and the ability to stim- ulate them). Older women tend to be more likely to have such aspirations, and Hispan- ics less, than black and white women. In short, there is some promise, despite the evidence that high school girls are likely to be ~lisinterested in nontraditional careers. One final comment is in order. It is a shame that we, as researchers and policy makers, often focus so much on individual factors that affect individual women and their choices and neglect employers and how they, through subtle and some not so subtle mechanisms, influence occupational sex segregation. This neglect occurs for a number of rea- sons. First, it is easier to study women than it is to study employers. Second, in a pe- culiar way, it is felt that we may have more control or effect on individuals than we do on institutions and businesses. It should be obvious that individual factors and often in- dividual forces are but one part of the spec- trum. There are numerous factors related to behaviors of employment that effect women once they enter the labor force. And, in fact, there are labor market factors that influence their choices prior to entry into the labor market.

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How pervasive is sex segregation in the workplace? Does the concentration of women into a few professions reflect their personal preferences, the "tastes" of employers, or sex-role socialization? Will greater enforcement of federal antidiscrimination laws reduce segregation? What are the prospects for the decade ahead? These are among the important policy and research questions raised in this comprehensive volume, of interest to policymakers, researchers, personnel directors, union leaders—anyone concerned about the economic parity of women.

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