, Volume 68, Issue 3-4, pp 207-215

Paradigmatic Assumptions of Disciplinary Research on Gender Disparities: The Case of Occupational Sex Segregation

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Abstract

Lips (2012) deconstructs the standard methodological approaches to understanding the gender wage gap and shows that issues of gender pervade nearly every assumption of these models. In this commentary, we call attention to paradigmatic assumptions and theoretical approaches of the three most relevant social-science disciplines that deal with a parallel issue—occupational sex segregation—to demonstrate that scientific progress is facilitated by transparency in our disciplinary approaches to addressing gender disparities. Accordingly, the neoclassical economic approach to occupational sex segregation posits, among other things, self-selection in the development of human capital, such as choice of college major, as well as women’s tradeoffs in marriage vs. work-related capital as the drivers of occupational disparities. Progressive sociological approaches, such as feminist and Marxist sociology eschew these “supply-side” explanations in favor of examining “demand-side” explanations, particularly social forces that shape both employers’ beliefs about desirable worker attributes as well as the institutional structures that are created to support these views. Psychological approaches tend to address both supply-side (e.g., vocational preferences) and demand-side (e.g., stereotypes and bias) explanations. The aim of this commentary is to elucidate the paradigmatic approaches that each of the major social-science disciplines takes in understanding gender inequity issues in order to advance integrated research on these important social topics.