Dispelling One Myth About Occupational Gender Segregation in the United States

Erin Cech(1)According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly two thirds of all American workers are employed in fields that have a significant majority of one gender or another. For example, women are a huge percentage of all nurses, dental hygienists, elementary school teachers, and secretaries. Men are the vast majority of workers in many construction trades, engineering, clergy positions, and garbage collectors.

Erin A. Cech, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice University in Houston, Texas, states that some observers explain this vast occupational gender segregation “as the outcome of men’s and women’s deliberate, economically rational decision-making to make the best use of their educational investments in light of their family plans.”

But Dr. Cech’s new study dispels the myth that women choose college majors and occupational fields based on flexibility that will enable them to raise a family as they pursue their careers. Dr. Cech’s research found that for 61 percent of men and 52 percent of women, say their plans to have a family did not enter into their decision on their college major or career choice.

“The family plans thesis seems to explain away occupational segregation as the result of individualistic, free choices,” Dr. Cech said. “Ironically the family plans thesis itself may help reproduce occupational segregation by impacting how parents encourage their children, how teachers advise students, and how employers think about employees. By reinforcing the family plans thesis without careful examination of its assumptions, scholars risk contributing to gender segregation by lending legitimacy to popular assumptions that blame women for ‘preferring’ lower-paid, lower-status occupations because such fields are presumed to accommodate women’s desired caregiving roles.”

Dr. Cech has been on the faculty at Rice University since 2012. She is a graduate of Montana State University, where she double majored in electrical engineering and sociology. Dr. Cech earned a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of California, San Diego.

The study, “Mechanism or Myth? Family Plans and the Reproduction of Occupational Gender Segregation,” was published on the website of the journal Gender & Society. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


RSSComments (0)

Leave a Reply