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DM's: Occupational Sex Segregation

Updated on December 15, 2020
School teachers and pupils in African American rural school.
School teachers and pupils in African American rural school. | Source

Twisting Perspectives

A little boy comes home and tells his mother and father that he got to hold his female teacher’s hand on the way to lunch today and he is really excited because she is very pretty. The mother and father smiles and share a couple laughs about the experience but expect nothing negative to happen to their young son. Now return to this same scenario and insert ‘young girl’ and ‘male teacher’ instead. What has happened has gone from a little crush by a child to a possible child molestation scenario. This is just one scenario of many that explain why many female dominated professions are kept to women. These men will instead decide to work at ‘manly’ jobs that require them to work with cutting edge technology or their bare hands. This creates a situation known as occupational sex segregation, defined as the degree to which men and women are concentrated in occupations in which workers of one sex predominate (Renzetti, 2012, p. 221). Many men are repelled from these jobs because a single misconstrued action at a very low paid position can result in a career and possibly life ending situation. The fact that women have to continue filling jobs similar to these, only further the notion that women are better at and should remain in such positions.

The fact that men are victims of negative stereotypes is not the only reason why there is occupational sex segregation. Many males have found very little incentive to move to positions that are held by women (Renzetti, 2012, p. 224). This can be because many trade and skill positions offer more pay or because there is less chance for advancement in female dominated positions (Knox, 2011, p. 39). A big part of the occupational sex separation is caused by the division of labor based on gender (Chafetz, 1988, p. 125). This goes back to the fact that in society, and inside families, women are expected to do certain tasks while men are expected to do others. Since women are seen simply as daycare workers for their children and cleaners for the kitchens, they are seen as less important than men, who are seen as heads of households and the muscle of the family. This translates to the workplace by women taking jobs as actual daycare workers and cleaning ladies/maids, while men become heads of states and skilled craftsmen. In society, just like in the family, many people do not see the importance of the work of women. The work of men is seen as more important and is then given a higher pay and look at as being more prestigious. Since jobs in government are seen as being more necessary than female dominated jobs, like teaching, the male dominated job is valued more (Cohen and Bianchi, 1999, p. 25).

This thought then leads to the view of gender essentialism. Gender essentialism is the view that women are more apt to complete certain jobs, while men are apt in others (Charles, 2003, p. 270). The thought that comes from this is that women are naturally better at jobs and areas that require characteristics of nurturing and caring. Men are then seen as the primary finance provider. Maria Charles claims that the division of labor may have to do with biology itself. The fact that men are usually taller and have more muscle mass means they are more physically capable to do skilled labor. Men are also not affected in ways that can debilitate women, like pregnancy. Men, on the other hand, do not have the necessary glands to provide food to children like women, through breastfeeding. Women are also smaller in frame and muscle mass, so they are characterized as weak. This entire generalization comes full circle. Women are seen as weak because they perform certain tasks and then women perform tasks because they are seen as weak. The same goes for men. Men are seen as strong so they perform the skilled labor and they perform skilled labor because they are seen as stronger.

The occupational gender separation in the workplace is a serious problem for numerous people. Many people only see that women are paid less than men, but there are other problems like job discrimination based on sex. They are both similar while they are both different. In the end, it is obvious that there is definitely a split when it comes to the roles that each sex is ‘supposed’ to take on. Until men and women are valued and looked at as equal, the occupational split will continue.


Chafetz, J. S. (1988). The Gender Division Of Labor And The Reproduction Of Female Disadvantage: Toward An Integrated Theory. Journal of Family Issues, 9(1), 108-131.

Charles, M. (2003). Deciphering Sex Segregation: Vertical And Horizontal Inequalities In Ten National Labor Markets. Acta Sociologica, 46(4), 267-287.

Cohen, P. N., & Bianchi, S. M. (1999). Marriage, children, and women's employment: What do we know?. Monthly Labor Review, 122, 22–31.

Knox, D. (2009). M & F + Review Card + Bind-in Printed Access Card. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub Co.

Renzetti, C. M., & Curran, D. J. (2012). Women, men, and society (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

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