The "Declining Significance of Gender" Reexamined: The Process of Occupational Feminization and Pay Reduction in Occupations, US 1960-2010

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW1.2.04 (Tower One)
Hadas Mandel, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel
During the past fifty years women’s economic attainments have dramatically improved. Women have become integrated in fields in which only a few decades ago they had no foothold. Today, the lack of female representation in most fields is a cause for public uproar, and frequently for legal intervention. Empirical research supports this “gender revolution” by pointing to a significant reduction in gender economic inequality over the past fifty years in almost every field in most developed democracies — from almost an equal gender representation in paid-work, through overrepresentation of women in high education, to a significant reduction of gender pay-gaps and levels of occupational segregation. In light of that, optimistic scholars predict that the trend of reduction will continue until gender no longer constitutes a significant axis of inequality in Western societies.

Less optimistic appraisals are voiced by feminist scholars who point to a slowdown and even stagnation in major aspects of the “gender revolution” from the mid-1990s, especially in the U.S. For example, in the U.S. the reduction in the levels of gender occupational segregation has completely halted and gender inequality in pay has even widened in the new millennium. This shift – which has drawn increasing attention in recent studies – is surprising, given the continual rise in women’s educational levels and their growing entry into male fields of study.

Situated on the seam between the two trends, the theoretical argument I seek to develop is that in the early twenty-first century gender inequality is changing its form from a process that occurs mainly at the individual-level, to one that is much less visible because it takes place mainly at the structural-level. Specifically, I argue that the very entry of women into the labor market and into higher positions within it, has changed the reward structure itself in a way that hurts women and favors men.

The effect of feminization on occupational pay is an example of such an implication, and it will serve as my empirical field. Curiously, despite the considerable scholarly attention devoted to the upward occupational mobility of women, the question regarding how the changing gender composition of occupations affects their relative pay levels over the past decades has been largely neglected. Indeed, the scholarship on feminization and occupational pay tends to focus on the correlation between the two, and not on possible changes in this effect over-time. In contrast, the research on long-term trends in gender inequality tends to focus on the relative attainments of individual men and women, and to overlook the structural implications of men and women’s changing attainments.

In light of this lacuna, in this research I use the IPUMS-USA data between 1960 and 2010, to examine the over-time trends in the effect of feminization on occupational pay. My motivations are to stress the distinction between the individual and structural effects of gender inequality; to uncover some of the mechanisms underlying the long-term trends in the effect of feminization on occupational pay; and to address their implications for gender inequality.