Sex Roles

, Volume 68, Issue 3, pp 207–215

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


    • Department of PsychologyIndiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis
  • Joel T. Nadler
    • Department of PsychologySouthern Illinois University Edwardsville
Feminist Forum Commentary

DOI: 10.1007/s11199-012-0228-1

Cite this article as:
Stockdale, M.S. & Nadler, J.T. Sex Roles (2013) 68: 207. doi:10.1007/s11199-012-0228-1


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.


Gender DisparityOccupational Sex SegregationGender Pay GapEconomicsSociologyPsychology


The wage gap is a constant reminder of gender inequity and economic injustice for women throughout the world (Hegewisch et al. 2010). It has also been a topic of scholarly and political discourse as social scientists, lawmakers, and political leaders have tried to put their stamp on explanations for this disparity that has been narrowing at a discouraging pace (Preston 1999; Queneau 2010). Lips (2012) directs a searchlight on a common explanatory framework for the wage gap, human capital theory, which even its distracters use as a starting point in their attempts to add more understanding of women's depressed earnings (e.g., Blau and Kahn 2007). She deconstructs many of the unchallenged assumptions of human capital theory and leaves us questioning whether the paradigm itself can be salvaged. In this commentary we stop short of declaring a Kuhnian paradigm shift; the need to dramatically change the core assumptions and methods we use to examine gender wage gap and occupational segregation (Kuhn 1996). However, we do take this opportunity to reveal the various lenses of social scientists that have endeavored to explain this intractable problem. In particular, by using as our focus a similar phenomenon that is intertwined with the wage gap, occupational sex segregation [the term “sex” is used here as it is the common usage in the economic (Anker, 2007) and organizational (Browne 2006) literature], we attempt to discern the values and perspectives of three disciplinary approaches to such gender disparities. Economics, sociology and psychology are well-established social scientific disciplines with their own (and often interconnected) theories, methodologies and analytical tools from which scholars have made important and valuable contributions in this arena, which will be reviewed in this paper. But each discipline has also borne the brunt of criticism from the others. Additionally, the majority of the research conducted in all three fields has focused on occupational segregation has been conducted in the United States (U.S.) using samples of U.S. citizens. Studies within this review have been conducted in the U.S. unless otherwise noted.

Occupational sex segregation is typically defined by disproportional representation of one gender or the other in the workforce in general and within individual careers in specific (Duncan and Duncan 1955; Weeden 1998). Occupational segregation, like the wage gap, is a visible reminder that gender equality is far from achieved. Despite legislation against “sex” discrimination in employment (e.g., Civil Rights Act of 1991, Pub. L 102–166; Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, Pub. L. 111–2) and progressive shifts in attitudes regarding women’s employment (Dorius and Alwin 2010), a large proportion of the U.S. workforce remain employed in occupations that are highly dominated by their own gender (Ridgeway and England 2007). The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that approximately 50% of employed women and men would have to change occupations from one dominated by their own gender to a more neutral or gender-incongruent occupation in order to eliminate occupational sex segregation (Hegewisch, et al. 2010). Moreover, male-dominated occupations are characterized by greater compensation, both in terms of salary and benefits, greater independence and control, better advancement opportunities, and greater authority than occupations dominated by women (e.g., Baron and Bielby 1985; Reskin 1993; Tomaskovic-Devey 1993). As Lips (2012) notes, occupational sex segregation accounts for arguably 40% of the gender wage gap (Hegewisch et al. 2010).

Although facts regarding occupational sex segregation and the wage gap are generally undisputed (Morgan 2008; Queneau 2010; Shauman 2006), theories of both vary widely from strong supply-side orientations, such as Human Capital Theory —which claim that worker attributes account for gender variation in occupational decisions (e.g., Becker 1957) and evolution theory (e.g., Browne 2006; Kanazawa 2005)—which posit biological differences between the men and women as the source of differential occupational paths—to strong demand-side orientations (Ridgeway and England 2007), which posit deliberate acts of employer discrimination and other forms of institutional sexism that differentially channel women and men into traditional occupational roles. Mid-range theories examine gender socialization forces, family structures, and gender differences in work and non-work values on occupational decisions (Glick and Fiske 2007). These theories are grounded in ideologies regarding gender and equality. We provide an overview of disciplinary and ideological perspectives in economics, sociology and psychology drawn primarily from United States samples in order to provide a balanced and comprehensive discussion of occupational sex segregation which we believe also informs research on the gender wage gap.

Economic Perspectives

Economists who study the production, distribution and purchase of labor have typically endorsed assumptions of the neoclassical model (Clark 1998) which assumes that labor markets act rationally according to the laws of supply (e.g., workers’ capital, such as knowledge, skills and experience) and demand (the price an organization will pay for labor capital). Supply and demand principles are affected by real or perceived scarcity of desirable labor capital, such that a high value attribute that is perceived as scarce, such as ability to relocate, will fetch a higher price (wage) than an attribute that is perceived as inconsequential and plentiful, such as a pleasant demeanor. Human Capital Theory (Becker 1957) has been the predominant neoclassical theory marshaled by economists to explain occupational sex segregation and the gender wage gap. Accordingly, labor economists hypothesize that workers (the suppliers of labor) consider their endowments, constraints and preferences when choosing which occupations to pursue and which subsequently affect wages (Anker 1997). Choice of college major or other career-related investments are similarly shaped by supply-side factors. In other words, students consider their abilities and interests, among other things, in choosing a college major. When neoclassical economists look at the issue, they see that men are more likely than women to pursue college majors that have higher value in the labor market, whereas women invest in experiences that are less likely to translate to high earnings, but which may align with values such as intrinsic job satisfaction, working with people over things, schedule flexibility and part time work (Shauman 2006). Studies have shown that gender differences in college major selection accounts for a large portion of the gender differences in entry-level pay (Morgan 2008). Women tend more than men to select majors in the liberal arts and humanities which has a less direct relationship with career choice, whereas men more than women, tend to select professionally-oriented majors such as engineering and business (Morgan 2008).

A long-held neoclassical/human capital assumption is that women and men consider the tradeoffs between the expectations for time spent in work and non-work roles in determining their choice of job or career. Economists have argued that women have been more concerned with the potential for work roles to conflict with non-work roles, especially family roles, and their anticipation of such conflict leads them to choose occupations that offer more flexibility (Gronau 1988; Preston 1999). One source of flexibility is the ability to quit work for a period of time (presumably to raise a family) and be able to return to work without needing considerable retraining. Jobs that permit this flexibility, according to neoclassicalists, are typically low paying and require little skill updating (Polachek 1975). Lips (2012) echoed England’s (1982) and Anker’s (1997) critique of this neoclassical assumption that women’s focus on flexibility and career interruption drives occupational segregation. Anker has shown that the amount of hours women spend on house and family-related activities has steadily decreased due to decreased fertility rates, and increases in household aids (e.g., dishwashers and vacuum cleaners). Additionally, women’s employment commitment has steadily increased in recent decades such that there is no longer an age-based double hump in labor force participation (i.e., two modal ages for women’s employment—one before childrearing and one after (e.g., Hynes and Clarkberg 2005). Therefore, the detractors of the neoclassical perspective ask why occupational sex segregation persists when evidence shows that women’s commitment to continuous employment has steadily grown.

The neoclassic tradition also suggests that women’s desire to increase their chance of marriage influences gendered occupational decisions. Although it may seem irrational for women to decrease their chances of high earnings by investing less in marketable human capital, such investments appear more rationale when considered as part of a family unit, according to neoclassical economists who espouse New Home Economics (the application of labor economic theories and methodologies to nonmarket activities of family units, e.g., Becker 1965; Berk and Berk 1983; Mincer 1962). Women who are or who anticipate being married consider both their market role as well as their family role in making occupational decisions (Mincer and Polachek 1974). The “marriage market” reflects factors that influence the prospects of being married or the choice of a mate. Some field and experimental research has shown that women are more attractive as mates, all else being equal, if they occupy traditionally female-dominated occupations (both high and low status, such as secretary or human resource manager) (Badgett and Folbre 2003), and that men are most attractive as mates when they choose masculine, high status occupations that require long working hours and higher educational attainment, presumably because such factors signal strong breadwinner capabilities (Gould 2008).

An analysis of a national probability sample of unmarried adults found mixed support for new home economics propositions about mate-selection factors that may affect occupational decisions; (Sprecher et al. 1994). Women were more likely than men to indicate that higher earnings and higher education were desirable mate characteristics and men were less turned off than women by lack of a steady job, lower earnings and lower education as mate characteristics. However, both women and men indicated higher preference for mates that would earn more than them than mates that would earn less (Sprecher, et al. 1994). Although these data are both old and to some extent equivocal, they suggest that women are generally constrained by the juxtaposition of these dual market forces: that is that the requirements to be marketable in the marriage market contrasts with requirements to be marketable in the labor market, whereas men are not so constrained because the requirements to increase their marketability in both the marriage market and labor market are the same. This economic theory may point to interesting lines of inquiry by social scientists endeavoring to understand dynamics that affect occupational segregation as well as wage gap issues if there is an inextricable connection between labor and marriage markets that create different types of pressures on women’s and men’s occupational choices.

Summarizing Lips (2012), much if not all of her critique focuses on supply-side explanations for the wage gap often favored by economists. She details in particular how choice of major does not appear to vaporize the pay gap as shown by studies that look at wage differences at career entry and career peek. Pay gaps exists at career entry and tend to expand at over time despite controlling for type of specialization, working hours and other important factors. Similarly, the neoclassical economic lens suggests that individuals and family units make rational decisions about their career choices which take into consideration various influences such as their expected non-work role investments and their fitness in the marriage market (Gronau 1988; Preston 1999). Working in a high wage-earning and otherwise high-status occupation is consonant with the traditional, breadwinner role for men and makes men highly attractive as mates. Working in a low-wage, non-professional occupation is less likely to conflict with the traditional, caregiver role for women and does not hinder women’s attractiveness as mates. As such, women and men invest (or fail to invest) in human capital characteristics that maximize the function of these joint contingencies, so say the neoclassicalists.

The juxtaposition of the marriage market with the labor market on career decisions poses another interesting question not addressed by Lips. Do women, especially those who espouse traditional values, "hold back" their career and earning aspirations in order to improve their standing in the marriage market? Long standing psychological theories on gender and social roles (Bem 1993; Eagly 1987; Gutek et al. 1991) hold that women identify more strongly than men with family roles—or stated more accurately, men enact their family “breadwinning” role by engaging in their work role, whereas for women these two roles conflict. Data from a national probability study confirm that adherence to traditional gender role beliefs was associated with higher incomes for men and slightly lower incomes for women (Judge and Livingston 2008). Economists’ claim that labor and marriage market forces jointly affect women’s and men’s occupational choices and earnings trajectories may suggest other questions for social scientists to purse, such as the one asked above.

To summarize, economists tend to support supply-side explanations (women making rational choices) for gender differences in occupational attainment (and its impact on “sex” segregation and wage disparities), although there are notable exceptions (Bergmann 2007). This focus on economic supply-side models has been criticized for failing to consider the influence of cultural bias, social pressures, and discrimination on these outcomes (Bergmann 2007); nonetheless they do present perspectives on questions that interest all social scientists who study these issues. Sociologists, and to a large extent psychologists, tend to favor demand-side explanations (the demands that “buyers” of labor—employers—place on the labor market ) for gender differences in occupational outcomes, to which our attention next turns (Glick and Fiske 2007; Ridgeway and England 2007).

Sociological Perspectives

Sociologists examine “the extent of gender disparities in employment…[and] on finding the causes for inequalities between men’s and women’s work and especially for the inequalities in rewards reaped from work” (Ridgeway and England 2007; p. 189). Sociologists, particularly those who adopt Marxist or Feminist lenses, pay particular attention to disparities in power and to hegemonic forces that operate at many levels of analyses to structure social relations that favor powerful entities. Marxist and feminist sociology defy simple explanation, but at their core concern the structure and reproduction of power and privilege in societies (Chafetz 1997; Spector 2002). These forces may operate at interpersonal levels in the form of cultural beliefs, stereotypes and gender status beliefs (Ridgeway and England 2007); at group levels in the form of in-group biases, such as homosocial reproduction—the tendency to favor and give privilege to people like oneself (Kanter 1977); at institutional levels in the form of firm policies and practices that shape employment dynamics; and even at state and national levels in the form of political actions and labor practices that affect the movement of women and men into various occupations (e.g., Moller and Li 2009).

Occupational sex segregation is “perhaps the most striking gender disparity in the contemporary world of paid work” (Ridgeway and England 2007, p. 191), and is largely perpetuated by widespread, implicit beliefs about women and men, their perceived attributes and the roles they are presumed to occupy in relation to one another (England 1982; Ridgeway et al. 2009). Feminist sociologists, therefore, are generally skeptical of supply-side explanations that place responsibility on gender differences in human capital attainment (Ridgeway 1991). More compelling, they argue, is the allocation process by which men and women are sorted into different job queues driven by cultural stereotypes of gender appropriate skills, prestige, and occupations (Reskin and Roos 1990). Men are encouraged to pursue jobs that presumably match masculine stereotypes, skills, and authority (e.g., physical strength, decision making, vigor) and women are encouraged to pursue jobs that require stereotypically feminine, skills, and traits nurturing (e.g., emotional nurturance, communicativeness, or finger dexterity) (Reskin and Roos 1990). When jobs become identified as female-dominated they are downgraded, poorly compensated, and marginalized (England 2010). In a vicious cycle, such jobs remain female dominated because men tend to stay clear of female-dominated jobs and are more likely to be sorted into higher status, higher paying, and more generally rewarding occupations (England 2010).

Firmly rooted in the feminist, sociological tradition is Expectations States theory (Berger et al. 1980; Ridgeway 1991), which elucidates demand-side factors that perpetuate beliefs about gender and status, noting that “demand-side” encompasses all factors and theories that explain employers’ and their proxies’ (e.g., supervisors, career counselors, research participants engaging in employer-related roles) perceptions and beliefs about the employable value of a class of individuals. Accordingly, status is an organizing principle that shapes people’s perceptions and expectations of others. Traits such as competence and authority are attributed to individuals who are presumed to be high status and although task- and other situation-specific characteristics may shape beliefs about status, gender (among other salient demographic characteristics, such as race) serves as a ubiquitous “master status” variable that shapes beliefs about others. Due to widespread cultural beliefs about gender, men are presumed to possess agentic characteristics that are highly valued in most work-related roles, whereas women are presumed to possess seemingly nicer, but less valued communal traits (Ridgeway and England 2007). Thus, Expectations States theory provides an explanation for why men are selected more often than men for high value jobs (contributing to occupational segregation), and why they fetch a higher price (contributing to the wage gap).

Expectations States theory (Berger, et al. 1980) predicts that beliefs about gender can either predominate in actors’ (e.g., hiring managers) perceptions of the appropriateness of an individual for a particular job or occupation, or they can interact with job-specific information to shape these perceptions. Gender is used as a cue to determine characteristics about an individual including status and traits associated with high or low status (Ridgeway and England 2007). Additionally, these stereotype-based expectations can result in hiring managers ascribing to men traits more associated with prestigious occupations increasing the likelihood of men being hired over women for such jobs (Ridgeway, et al. 2009). Left unchecked, these beliefs can result in statistical discrimination because gender serves as a proxy for purported work-relevant characteristics that men are assumed to possess at a greater rate than women (Ridgeway and England 2007).

Sociologists have also recognized supply-side influences that impact occupational segregation: that is, forces, such as gender role socialization, that shape individuals’ occupational decisions. Hough (1987) suggested that occupational segregation results from differences between men and women on the importance of family and levels of family responsibility. Supporting Hough, a variety of studies found that female faculty members report greater stress and worry about family demands in relation to their career advancement compared to men who are more concerned with power and promotion (Dey 1994; Perna 2005; Vagg et al. 2002). Additionally, female faculty reported that becoming a mother had negatively impacted their academic careers (Marshall and Jones 1990). Kaufman and Uhlenberg (2000) found that mothers were less likely to be employed or were employed for fewer hours than non-mothers. Additionally, greater numbers of children predicted greater reductions in hours worked within women. By contrast, men with children were more likely to be employed than men without children and men with more children worked more hours than men with less children (Kaufman and Uhlenberg 2000).

Presser and Hermsen (1996) found men were more willing to travel compared to women in similar occupations. Egalitarian attitudes increased the odds of women but not men traveling regularly as a part of their careers. Baldridge et al. (2006) found that gender-role pressures on women decreased their likelihood to relocate or travel for work compared to men. Gender differences in willingness to travel and willingness to relocate may impact occupational segregation as many high earning jobs require travel or relocation (Presser and Hermsen 1996). Whether men gravitate toward and women against such occupations or whether employers differentially steer men and women toward or away from such occupations is one of the issues at the crux of the supply- vs. demand-side debate on women’s and men’s employment patterns.

Sociologists guided by institutional theory argue that structures and processes within firms play a large role in perpetuating or abating job segregation problems (e.g., Bielby and Baron 1984; Kalev et al. 2006). Such structures and practices include internal promotion ladders, preferential treatment programs, compensation structures, as well as a host of affirmative action and diversity initiatives. Institutional structures that exacerbate job segregation include promotion patterns that privilege jobs that men tend to occupy. By contrast, institutional practices that curtail job segregation (promote integration) are those that create structures of responsibility for diversifying occupations and promotion ladders. Without clear responsibility within firms for these initiatives, edicts for diversity are generally ignored as managers tend to more pressing matters such as deadlines and budgets (Kalev et al. 2006). Kalev et al. (2006) examined the effects of various affirmative action and diversity initiatives on the gender and race desegregation of managerial positions in over 700 private sector firms in the U.S. from 1971 to 2002. Initiatives that created positions of responsibility for affirmative action and EEO oversight, such as an office of diversity with full-time staff that had responsibility of setting affirmative action goals and monitoring their progress, were the most successful in increasing the percentage of women in managerial positions. Initiatives aimed at increasing understanding of bias, stereotyping and prejudice (i.e., diversity training) had negligible effects on increasing managerial gender diversity and had negative effects on race diversity in management (Kalev et al. 2006).

To summarize, the sociological approach to understanding occupational and job “sex” segregation eschews assumptions that occupationally-relevant actors pursue rational, economically maximizing courses of action in job allocation decisions and instead are subject to the forces of power, patriarchy, and social control. These forces act at multiple levels. As individuals in a social world we possess and act on beliefs about women and men and their presumed traits and roles; as groups we privilege those who are most similar to us and isolate those who are different; as institutions we create structures and practices that codify our biases and prejudices.

Psychological Perspectives

As the science of human behavior, psychology complements economic and sociological approaches to occupational sex segregation and the wage gap by examining both demand and supply-side factors, focusing primarily at the individual level of analysis but also often with regard to the contexts in which behavior occurs. Indeed, Glick and Fiske (2007) stated that psychologists research gender discrimination and occupational sex segregation by considering “not only what goes on inside the individual’s mind, but how the individual is affected by and adapts to social contexts, ranging from proximal influences (e.g., the norms of one’s immediate work group) to more distal influences (e.g., the division of male and female roles in society)” (p. 156). Psychological research on supply-side factors focuses on individual differences in career choices and job preferences, whereas research on demand-side factors includes psychological research on stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. The questions psychologists ask tend to probe the internal (e.g., traits, attitudes, beliefs), social (e.g., group norms and roles, cultural expectations), structural (e.g., organizational arrangements) and other higher-level factors that influence individual career or job decisions (from the supply perspective) or an individual’s or institution’s discriminatory behavior (from the demand perspective).

Social role theory (Eagly 1987) suggests that traditional divisions of labor between men and women have over time shaped stereotypes of both people (men and women) as well as occupations (masculine and feminine typed jobs). Men have traditionally occupied roles outside of the home and have become associated with agentic traits such as competence, aggression, ambition, and independence. In contrast, women have been associated with home and childrearing roles and are associated with communal traits such as compassion, caring, weakness, and interdependence. The forces that shape beliefs about gender roles are communicated to children at an early age and become internalized as part of their self-identity, which in turn shapes beliefs about career options (Gottfredson 1981). Gottfredson’s (1981) circumscription and compromise theory states that gender guides the development of self-concept and the subsequent desirability of various careers. Additionally, the theory suggests that gender self-concept in vocational choices is robust and that individuals resist violating their vocational gender self-concept. According to Gottfredson, gender is the primary individual difference variable that predicts vocational interests. Gottfredson and Lapan (1997) further suggested that because of these gendered self-concepts men and women limit their vocational choices often eliminating choices at which they might enjoy and excel.

Gender differences have been found in vocational interests with women reporting more interest than men in social occupations (Betz et al. 1996; Holland 1985). Lent et al. (1994) suggested that alignment with Holland’s (1985) interest types (i.e., broad categories of activities that reflect realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, or conventional orientations) determined vocational choices. Holland’s interests map on to clusters of career preferences, for example conventional careers include law, business and accounting while social careers include education and nursing. Gender roles impact both the alignment with Holland’s interest types and individuals’ attitudes towards their competence within those interest areas (Betz et al. 1996). Women are more likely than men to express interest in Holland’s social and realistic areas and men are more likely to express interest in conventional areas (Betz et al. 1996). Gender-based differences extend to job attributes as well. A meta-analysis of over 200 studies representing a total sample size of over 600,000 found gender differences corresponding to gender stereotypes and roles in 33 of the 40 job attributes examined (Konrad et al. 2000).

In addition to career interests, Lent et al. (1994) posited that one’s belief in their skills and abilities to succeed in a chosen occupation, i.e., career self-efficacy, shapes career decisions Betz et al. (1996) found gender differences in self-efficacy within each of Holland’s interest types. Women expressed greater self-efficacy than men in their ability to succeed in social and realistic careers and reported less self-efficacy than men in their ability to succeed in conventional careers (Betz et al. 1996; Lent et al. 1994).

The selection of career interests is affected by gender roles, perceptions of various career-related stressors, such as work-family conflict, and expectations that one will encounter bias, discrimination, and sexual harassment (Phillips and Imhoff 1997). Moreover, career decisions are not completed at one point in one’s life, instead they ebb and flow across the lifespan as they shape and alter one's education and training, career self-concepts, and career decisions. Gendered dynamics impact these decisions at each point through a lifespan (Baron, and Bielby 1985).

Research in psychology has found consistent evidence of gendered differences in pressures and perceptions of career efficacy and career interest. Crocker et al. (2003) found that women who were pursuing a stereotypically male-dominated college major experienced reduced self-esteem and reduced identification with their major compared to men in the same major. Murphy et al. (2007) found that masculine cues reduced women’s interest in male-dominated fields such as science and math. Similarly, Cheryan et al. (2009) found that stereotypical cues reduced women’s interest in computer science. The results indicated that male-stereotypical cues affected women’s, but not men’s, sense of belonging to groups. Additionally, Cheryan et al. found that women’s awareness of the actual ratio of men to women in computer science as well as their stereotyped beliefs about these ratios reduced their sense of belonging to the major and subsequently reduced women’s interest in joining the major. Stereotypical cues in a group’s environment send persuasive messages to potential members about the type of person that belongs in particular career groups.

Beyond gender-related factors that influence career choices, psychologists’ approach to demand-side factors that affect occupational segregation has primarily focused on stereotypes, prejudice, and discriminatory behaviors that may result in women and men being differentially selected for various jobs and occupations. Gender bias and discrimination can result from overt sexism and intentional societal structures aimed at reducing women’s access to resources, such as jobs and high pay. However, intent or conscious awareness and endorsement of gender role stereotypes is not necessary for bias and discrimination to occur (Greenwald et al. 2009). People are influenced by cultural gender stereotypes that they do not consciously endorse (Banaji and Greenwald 1995) and these implicit beliefs influence how we interact with others from stereotyped groups (Rudman and Kilianski 2000). Men are more likely to be seen as a good fit for masculine-typed jobs, and are more likely to be hired and promoted in such occupations (see Eagly and Carli 2007). Likewise, women are more likely to be seen as a good fit for feminine-typed jobs. These perceptions of the fit between individuals and jobs that are based gender stereotypes of people and occupations perpetuates occupational segregation through biases in hiring, appraising job performance, and promotion decisions.

Institutional environments and structures also impact discriminatory behavior. Gutek (1985) demonstrated that sexualized work environments can lead to highly discriminatory behaviors, such as sexual harassment. Sexualized work environments are those characterized by a strong imbalance in the ratio of women to men (i.e., gender segregated), and a high degree of sexual banter and other sexual stimuli being present. Thus, the culture of a gender-segregated workplace, especially male-dominated environments, perpetuates occupational segregation by making gender salient and by facilitating behaviors, such as sexual harassment, that reduce the likelihood of women pursuing or remaining in the sexualized work environment (de Haas and Timmerman 2010). Similarly, corporate cultures may emphasize masculine or feminine environments which in turn may heighten gender bias in decision making. Numerous situational variables have been found to hamper women’s placement and advancement in masculine careers. Professions that are male-dominated are more likely to result in stereotyping of women and an increased likelihood of women relegated to feminine-typed communal functions within the organization (Gutek 1985). Such minority status serves to increase the salience of the individuals’ social category (woman) further heightening stereotyped expectations of behaviors (Taylor 1981). Further, stereotypes are strongest when individuating information is absent (Tosi and Einbender 1985) such as when a group has little experience with a social group in a particular setting. Finally, managers with less oversight who are far-removed from observing the day-to-day work behaviors of employees are more likely to fall prey to bias-based on stereotypes (Fiske 1993). All of these situational factors are likely to present barriers to women entering male-dominated fields by presenting barriers to occupational integration, stilted advancement opportunities, and higher rates of attrition for women who attempt to establish careers in male-dominated occupations.


Lips (2012) cogently argues that many of the assumptions and methodological decisions that guide investigations into the gender wage gap, especially those that are grounded in human capital theory, have inherent flaws or are impacted by gendered processes that often go unnoticed. Her analysis is the kind of deconstruction needed to expose epistemological assumptions that undergird all disciplinary approaches to questions of the wage gap or occupational segregation. Although the neoclassical approach favored by and large by economists is flawed because of its inadequate attention to the hegemonic forces of patriarchy, the paradigmatic assumptions of sociological, psychological and other approaches to shaping questions about gender disparities should also be exposed and deconstructed. Our intention is not to disparage the economic, sociological, and psychological approaches and the scholarly works they have produced, but to address the assumptions and levels of analysis endemic to each approach.

Although the gender wage gap and occupational segregation are separate phenomena, they are closely linked. Whether guided by supply-side gender-role socialization processes or demand-side stereotyping, expectancies or more overt discrimination, women and men continue to be sorted into occupational spheres that are dominated by their own gender, and occupations that are mostly occupied by men net higher incomes than those occupied by women.

We hope our commentary along with Lips' exemplary critique of the prevailing approaches to studying the gender wage gap enlightens future scholars in all disciplines to critically examine these assumptions as they shape their research agendas.


Portions of this comment are based on a longer chapter to appear in Diversity Ideologies, edited by Kecia M. Thomas, Victoria C. Plaut & Ny Mia Tran. Taylor-Francis.

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012