“When women enter an industry the wages are lowered” – any truth to this statement?
Source: Chris Murray
Question asked by: TheMoustacheLady
This claim is referred to as the “devaluation position” in the sociological literature. Levanon, England, & Allison (2009) describe the position as follows:
[The devaluation position] assumes that gendered cultural beliefs, which are shared by males and females, portray men as more competent and status-worthy than women (Ridgeway 1997; Ridgeway and England 2007). It also assumes that the value assigned to work in different occupations depends on the characteristics of the occupations’ incumbents (Cejka and Eagly 1999). Together, these assumptions imply that work in predominantly female jobs will be devalued by both employers and prospective employees due to the low status of the jobs’ incumbents, and that pay in predominantly female jobs is lower because women fill the jobs. In this view, a change in the gender composition of an occupation will lead to a change in the valuation of the work being preformed, leading to a change in occupations’ relative pay rates.
This theory is contrasted with the “queing position” (also described in Levanon et al.):
This view assumes that both men and women prefer to work in occupations that offer relatively high levels of reward; that is, it assumes that a single job/occupation queue exists for both men and women. Occupations are arrayed in a queue ordered by the rewards they offer. In addition, the queuing view assumes that employers generally prefer men over women in all jobs, implying that a single labor queue ordered, at least in part, by gender guides hiring decisions. Together, these preferences mean that employers can easily recruit men to high-paying occupations (and/or those occupations high on other rewards). However, recruiting men to occupations characterized by low rewards is problematic because men will be reluctant to work in such occupations and will be able to find work in better occupations. Women, by contrast, will only be able to find work in occupations offering relatively poor rewards because access to high paying occupations will be blocked due to discrimination by employers, except when there aren’t enough men to fill these positions. Relatively poor pay, in this view, means lower pay relative to educational requirements.
While these views are not mutually exclusive, they do describe different types of employer discrimination by gender.
Using U.S. Census data from 1950-2000, Levanon and colleagues found evidence for devaluation and very little for queueing.
If you are interested in this topic, I would recommend reviewing Paula England’s published work on gender inequality in labor markets.
Levanon, A., England, P., & Allison, P. (2009). Occupational Feminization and Pay: Assessing Causal Dynamics Using 1950-2000 U.S. Census Data. Social Forces, 88(2), 865-891.
To expand and to add some complimentary insight: not only sociology, there are also social psychologists interested in gender disparities who contribute to the same or similar observations – I would invite OP to also check the two recent threads about STEM (here and here) as the matter of how different sectors are perceived and valued intersect here.
Briefly summarizing, researchers such as Alice Eagly (cited for example by Levanon et al.) have studied how people attribute “communal” and “agentic” traits and qualities to respectively women and men, and to female-dominated and male-dominated occupations. Concurrently, these different occupations are also perceived as having different status – see the difference between Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) and Health care, Early Education and Domestic (HEED) careers.
Finally, differences in financial compensation to agentic and communal occupations might also stem partly from the status asymmetry in men’s and women’s roles. Because health care– and education-related professions often emphasize communal qualities and caregiving, one is assumed to go into health care or teaching for the sheer love of helping others (i.e., because it is morally right), rather than for some extrinsic compensation (i.e., for status or money) that we would associate with equitable or meritocratic exchange relationships. Thus, status-based stereotypic assumptions about traits that underlie these occupations might also be used to justify the observed, systematic differences in compensation.
From the latter paper:
Even when controlling for perceptions of current labor market characteristics such as actual salary and work hours (Study 3), individual differences in communal values consistently predict perceptions of the societal worth and support for salary increases in HEED careers – over and above perceiver gender. These novel findings suggest that the abstract values we espouse can directly account for our willingness to take on certain careers ourselves and even predict which careers we perceive as worthwhile to society in general.
Finally, from a recent 2019 paper by Block, Croft, De Souza and Schmader:
The biases revealed by Study 4 help to address a common argument against efforts to encourage men to take on traditional female-dominated roles. An often-used retort is that men would be sacrificing earning potential by entering careers that do, on average, pay less. Here we see, that even if these careers do not pay less, people assume that men will be less interested in any career that is majority female. Because these assumptions, regardless of the reality of men’s career decisions, might prevent people from supporting social action, they can place important constraints on social change. The biases discussed here thus have the potential to create a self-fulfilling prophecy in that people are also less interested in promoting pay raises in female-dominated caregiving careers (Block et al., 2018), and yet if more men were to enter these occupations, the salaries in these fields might also rise (Levanon ,England, & Allison,2009).
Nathan Ensmenger’s The Computer Boys Take Over is a good source on the history of how this happened in reverse in computer programming, which was initially considered a secretarial role when it was performed by women, but gained status (and increased compensation) as it shifted, for many reasons, to being considered a skilled, technical, “male” role.