What do so-called ‘women’s jobs’ actually pay?

Interesting and provocative column by William Watson on gender differences in the workplace:

In a new working paper, two University of Toronto economists argue, rather courageously in the current climate in universities, that some occupational segregation of men and women may reflect choices based on gender advantages in the activities involved. They also find, counter-intuitively, that reducing existing job segregation might actually increase the male/female wage gap.

The economists, Michael Baker and Kirsten Cornelson, start by reviewing current scientific evidence about the differences between men and women. It turns out there really are systematic, verifiable differences between men and women. Women are better at perceiving colour and seeing distant things, men at seeing fine detail and objects moving rapidly. Women hear better, men mind noise less. There are also differences in taste, smell and touch, and in “perceptual speed, fine motor manipulations and tactile skills.” In all of these, women tend to do better. In the “processing of far space,” however, and a few other things, men excel. Whether these differences are genetic or learned is clearly open to debate and research.

Having identified these gender aptitudes, Baker and Cornelson then look at standard categorizations of almost 500 different jobs to find which ones require which kinds of skills. Examining gender segregation across all these jobs, they find that those where “female skills” are more important do tend to have higher ratios of women. That suggests some job segregation may be from men and women selecting work that favours their gender-specific skills. How big is this effect? If it weren’t there, the economists calculate, the Duncan Index would be 0.38 rather than 0.51. So it’s important but not dominant.

You might think the story is all about “STEM” jobs (science, technology, engineering and math). It isn’t. Too few people, male and female, work in these jobs for them to be decisive. Only 2.7 per cent of women work in them versus 8.0 per cent of men, so women are under-represented. But if the gender-advantage effect is eliminated the Duncan Index falls only slightly. So STEM isn’t to blame, though that’s no reason not to want more women to go into it, so long as they want to, that is.

The top occupations in terms of explaining gender segregation are in fact: secretary and administrative assistant, nurse, truck driver, elementary and middle school teacher, and home health aide. It’s natural to suppose that if there were gender balance in these areas, that would raise female wages compared to male.

But when they simulate a world in which people don’t respond to gender advantages in jobs, Baker and Cornelson find that the gap between women’s and men’s wages actually rises. How come? Several well-paid occupations – doctoring, accounting, nursing – favour female attributes. If you prevent women from taking advantage of their gender advantage by entering these occupations disproportionately, average female wages fall.

The most interesting question this study raises in my mind? Will our hyper-politically correct society be able to discuss it without an intellectual food fight?

Source: What do so-called ‘women’s jobs’ actually pay? | Ottawa Citizen

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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