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The Overtaking of Undertaking?: Gender Beliefs in a Feminizing Occupation


How gender beliefs are used to explain the division of labor in an occupation can recreate or disrupt inequality. Our study contributes to the growing body of research examining which narratives about gender segregation in male-dominated occupations are more or less oppressive to women. We asked 13 female and 9 male U.S. funeral directors to account for the shifting gender composition of their field. Most funeral directors explained women’s entry into funeral directing and justified gender segregation in the occupation by drawing on gender beliefs about women’s superior nurturing “natures” and men’s “innate” superior physical strength and scientific ability. Our findings demonstrate the strength of cultural gender beliefs for shaping narratives about gender and work and suggest ways individuals grapple in their everyday interactions with “degendering” skills in feminizing occupations.

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The authors would like to thank Lisa Melander, Heather McCrea, and Dana Britton for reading earlier versions of this work. The authors would also like to thank the editor and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback.

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Correspondence to Sarah Donley.

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Donley, S., Baird, C.L. The Overtaking of Undertaking?: Gender Beliefs in a Feminizing Occupation. Sex Roles 77, 97–112 (2017).

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  • Gender
  • Work
  • Inequality
  • Stereotyped attitudes
  • Feminization
  • Funeral directing