Workplace Remains Sex-Segregated, Panel Concludes

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Although employment options widened substantially for women in the 1970's, the workplace--including schools--remains predominantly sex-segregated, and that segregation continues to depress women's wages and opportunities for advancement relative to men's.

That is the conclusion of a two-year study conducted by a committee of the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences. The committee received approximately $180,000 from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the U.S. Education Department, and the U.S. Labor Department to conduct its research.

The Committee on Women's Employment and Related Social Issues was chaired by Alice S. Ilchman, president of Sarah Lawrence College.

The group's study found that more than half of all Americans work in jobs that are 80 percent male or female, and that women earn 60 cents for every dollar earned by men. "Approximately 35-40 percent of the wage gap can be attributed to occupational segregation," the report 4states, "and sex segregation within occupations apparently accounts for much of the remaining disparity."

In elementary-school teaching, a field cited by the committee as an example of segregation among occupations, women made up 75.4 percent of the teaching force in 1980, compared with 83.9 percent in 1970. But only 28 percent of public-school administrators are women, according to estimates by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Within occupations, the committee said, although affirmative-action programs have increased the number of women in predominantly male professions, "decreases in federal enforcement that have occurred since 1981 and recent changes in the philosophy of enforcement, including reversals of federal civil-rights policy in some areas, are likely to negatively affect women's future employment opportunities."

Further, the committee noted, despite gains made in the 1970's--when the index of sex segregation declined by 10 percent, the largest decrease in any decade--the index will decline only 2 to 8 percent in the 1980's. That index measures the degree to which the distributions of women and men across the occupations differ from each other.

To reduce the economic consequences of such segregation, the committee called on employers to end discriminatory practices voluntarily. It recommended that the federal government enforce anti-discrimination laws firmly, promote affirmative-action programs, and increase its monitoring of schools' compliance with sex-equity laws such as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The committee called on schools to remove sexual stereotyping from teaching materials and occupational information for students and to develop programs heightening awareness of the economic consequences of sex segregation.

Barriers to Equality

The most important causes of sexual segregation in the workforce are hiring and training practices, social stereotyping, and other barriers to equality of employment, rather than the job choices men and women make, according to the report.

While equal employment opportunity does not necessarily require that equal proportions of men and women fill all jobs, the study concluded, the extent of segregation would be "substantially reduced" if barriers to equality were removed.

Such barriers, the committee noted, include recruitment systems that depend on referrals from predominantly male settings such as vocational education or the military, requirements for nonessential training or credentials that women often lack, and departmental rather than plant-wide seniority systems that limit women's career progress.

Although it noted that the evidence is scanty, the committee also suggested that practices in education may perpetuate sex-role stereotypes, and it pointed to sex segregation in many vocational programs as a key problem.

Lower Wages

Sex segregation, the panel also noted, plays a "particularly important" role in depressing wages in female-dominated occupations.

The economic effects of lower wages for women, the panel found, are likely to increase due to the growing number of women in the workforce (currently 43 percent) and the increasing impact of women's wages on family income. In 1984, the committee noted, single women headed one-sixth of all American families, and married women contributed 69 percent of the income of families earning less than $10,000.

Further, the committee noted, the economic effects of employment segregation continue after women leave the workforce, in the form of lower benefits from Social Security and other retirement programs.

Sex segregation in employment, it found, also reduces national productivity by failing to make full use of the available labor supply. "Society as well as individual members lose when workers are assigned to jobs on the basis of their gender rather than their talents," the report said.

Additional Findings

Other findings of the report:

In 1981, the median salary for women who worked full time throughout the year was $12,001, about 59 percent of the median male salary of $20,260. White women over age 18 earned about 60 percent of the salary of white men; black women earned 76 percent of the salary of black men; and Hispanic women earned 73 percent of the salary of Hispanic men. Black women earned 54 percent of the wages of white men.

Among the 10 occupations employing the most women in 1980, bookkeeping, registered nursing, and secretarial work were the most segregated by sex. The most male-dominated occupations among the 10 fields employing the most men were auto repair, truck driving, and carpentry.

Beliefs and practices concerning family care contribute to segregation in the workplace, although their impact is difficult to quantify, the committee said. Society continues to believe that women have primary responsibility for child care. But because half of all mothers of preschool children and more than half of all mothers of school-age children are in the labor force, child-care facilities must be made available, affordable, and adaptable to both parents' work, the report says.

Copies of the 173-page report, entitled "Women's Work, Men's Work: Sex Segregation on the Job," are available for $15.50 from the National Academy Press, 2010 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20418.

Vol. 05, Issue 17

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