The Work Week, Episode 3: Gender Segregation In The Workplace : The Indicator from Planet Money The most common jobs for men and the most common jobs for women tend to be different — and this separation has big effects for everyone.

The Work Week, Episode 3: Gender Segregation In The Workplace

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Hey, everyone. It's Stacey. As we continue our weeklong series on the labor market, we turn to a very hot topic in the news right now - gender segregation in the workplace. This episode originally ran as our Jobs Friday episode in March.


VANEK SMITH: Hey, everybody. It is Stacey and Cardiff, and this is Jobs Friday.



Happy jobs Friday, everybody.

VANEK SMITH: (Imitating air horns).

GARCIA: And today's jobs report showed that the economy created only 20,000 jobs in February. It should've been like a womp (ph), womp, womp.

VANEK SMITH: That's super low because usually it's like a hundred thousand, couple hundred thousand.

GARCIA: Let's hope it could be just a blip because more than 300,000 jobs were created in January. So too early to say if this is something to worry about because this report does fluctuate a lot from month to month, which is why here on THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY, we, as always, prefer looking at the longer term.

VANEK SMITH: So for this episode, we're going to cover a topic that is kind of hard to talk about sometimes. This topic is gender segregation in the workplace. And what we mean by this is that there are some occupations where women hold a very high share of the jobs and other occupations where men hold a very high share of the jobs. For example, women hold a big majority of jobs in teaching and health care, and men hold most of the jobs in manufacturing and computer engineering.

GARCIA: So today on the show, the big and sometimes underestimated effects of gender segregation in the workplace - effects for both men and women and why it's a big deal for the U.S. economy as a whole.


GARCIA: Martha Gimbel is the economic research director at the Indeed Hiring Lab and a regular on the show, one of our favorites. And gender segregation in the workplace is a topic she's been focused on for a while now.

MARTHA GIMBEL: People tend to avoid talking about it a little bit, I think, like the fact that women are more likely to be in - you know, primary care teachers, and men are more likely to be CEOs, it can end up sounding like you're either blaming women or saying it doesn't matter - like, it's hard to talk about.

VANEK SMITH: But, Martha says, we should talk about it because occupational gender segregation matters for everyone - for women, for men, for families, for the economy - in a bunch of ways. For example, it explains a big part of the wealth gap that remains between men and women. The reason is that, overall, most jobs that pay the most are held by men, which include jobs like being a doctor or a dentist or, you know, an engineer. And most of the lower-paying jobs are held by women like child care workers, cashiers, personal care aides.

GARCIA: And the breakdown is really stark when you look at senior executives of big companies. Here's a really staggering statistic - of the 500 CEOs of the companies that made up the Fortune 500 last year, only 24 were women.

VANEK SMITH: That's not very many.

GARCIA: No. It's less than 5%. It's terrible.

VANEK SMITH: I mean...

GARCIA: It's not a lot.

VANEK SMITH: What are you going to do?

GARCIA: Women earn about 20% less than men do throughout the economy. That's the gender wage gap. Now, discrimination and other variables account for a lot of it. But in a recent paper, economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn estimated that roughly half of the gender wage gap is because men and women work in different industries and occupations.

VANEK SMITH: So one conclusion is that if the labor market were less segregated - in other words, if men and women held roughly the same share of jobs in every occupation - then women would likely be paid closer to what men are paid overall. The wage gap would be smaller. Now, of course, one response to the fact that men and women work in different jobs could just be that women are choosing different jobs than men are, that they're just doing the work they want to do and that it's no big deal. It's just free choice. But Martha says the issue is way more complicated than that. She says we should also consider some of the reasons that women might choose to work in certain jobs and not work in other jobs.

GIMBEL: If they don't have role models, if people assume that women can't do that kind of work, if people who are already in that profession tend to talk about women in a derogatory way, that's going to cause women to think, maybe this occupation isn't for me.

GARCIA: And there is research showing that women who do go to work in male-dominated occupations find it more unpleasant and that the working environment is more hostile to them in those male-dominated fields. And that, of course, can discourage women from trying for those higher-paying jobs in the first place. And Martha also cites a fascinating sociology paper about another barrier to women entering these higher-paying jobs - stereotypes.

GIMBEL: There was a paper that came out recently showing that when employers were reviewing resumes, they preferred to call in high-achieving men for interviews but only moderately achieving women. And the researchers went, wait, why is this? And they followed up with the employers. And the employers said, we think that the moderately achieving women will be more sociable and friendly. But the high-achieving women, you know, they seem like they're going to cause social problems in the office. These are people they hadn't even met. And you could see that kind of factor being a bigger problem in male-dominated occupations, where there aren't already high-achieving women in the office.

VANEK SMITH: But Martha's quick to point out that gender segregation is also an important issue for men, especially when considering where the economy is heading. Over the next decade, most of the jobs that will grow the fastest are jobs that have historically been dominated by women.

GIMBEL: It's things like nurses, nurse practitioners. We're going to need a lot of - more health care workers.

GARCIA: Because of, like, the aging population.

GIMBEL: Exactly. On the other hand, occupations that are dominated by men are projected to grow much more slowly. And, in fact, occupations that are predominantly women are projected to grow about twice what occupations that are dominated by men are.

VANEK SMITH: So if the men in these heavily male-dominated occupations want to keep participating in the labor market, a lot of them will probably have to shift into jobs that have traditionally been held by women.

GARCIA: There's another point here, which is that a lot of the high-paying jobs that require long hours and have very little flexibility - jobs like lawyers or bankers or senior executives at big companies - still tend to be held by men. One likely explanation for that is that the responsibilities of parenting and childcare have disproportionately been carried by women in the past.

And inflexibility in the workplace is actually a problem for everybody, Martha says. It's a problem for women because it means fewer of them can take these jobs, which would also help close the wage gap. But it's a problem for men because men also want flexibility at work, maybe more than a lot of people realize. One recent paper, for example, concluded that men and women just aren't very different when it comes to reporting conflict between work and family.

VANEK SMITH: Finally, says Martha, gender segregation can also hold back overall economic growth because it means that a lot of jobs aren't being taken by the people who are best matched to those jobs, and that slows down just how much the economy produces.

GIMBEL: A lot of the gains that we've seen in our economy over the last 30, 40 years are because of women entering the workforce. I would argue that we aren't yet fully using women's potential because they may not - they may be shut out of the occupations where they may be most productive, that they would like to be in. And so if we are getting the most out of every worker that we possibly can, that's great for everyone.

And so ending gender segregation in occupations, or at least the biases and discrimination that keep women out of certain occupations, is good for women. It's good for men not to be stuck in occupations that may grow more slowly. And it's good for our economy.

VANEK SMITH: Progress in reducing gender segregation has been slow. And some economists find that it has actually been getting slower in the last few decades. But there have been some signs that more progress is at least possible. For example, the share of nursing jobs done by men has been steadily going up since the '60s. And as the labor market has strengthened in recent years, women have also been getting hired into more traditionally male-dominated jobs, things like construction, mining and manufacturing.

GIMBEL: I do think the tightening labor market has helped here. One thing that we've seen at - you know, from 2016 to 2018 in this period of a really hot labor market, is that women's employment in male-dominated industries has grown almost twice as fast as their employment in non-male-dominated industries. Now, it's still small, but it's growing much faster.


GARCIA: A quick note of gratitude - the idea for this episode was partly sparked by an excellent article about it in The Economist. We also relied on some great work on this topic published by economists at the Center for Equitable Growth and on a paper by Claudia Goldin and work from other economists and scholars. We'll post links to all these articles and papers in the show notes at

VANEK SMITH: This episode was originally produced by Constanza Gallardo and Darius Rafieyan. The update was produced by Leena Sanzgiri. Our intern is Nadia Lewis. Our editor is Paddy Hirsch. And THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR.

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