Occupational segregation

Occupational segregation is the distribution of workers across and within occupations, based upon demographic characteristics, most often gender.[1] Occupational segregation levels differ on a basis of perfect segregation and integration. Perfect segregation occurs where any given occupation employs only one group. Perfect integration, on the other hand, occurs where each group holds the same proportion of positions in an occupation as it holds in the labor force.[2]

Many scholars, such as Biblarz et al., argue that occupational segregation is most likely caused by gender-based discrimination[3] that often occurs in patterns, either horizontally (across occupations) or vertically (within the hierarchy of occupations). Both of these contribute to the gender pay gap.[4]



Horizontal segregation refers to differences in the number of people of each gender present across occupations.[5] Horizontal segregation is likely to be increased by post-industrial restructuring of the economy (post-industrial society), in which the expansion of service industries has called for many women to enter the workforce. The millions of housewives who entered the economy during post-industrial restructuring primarily entered into service sector jobs where they could work part-time and having flexible hours. While these options are often appealing to mothers, who are often responsible for the care work of their children and their homes,[5] they are also unfortunately most available in lower-paying and lower status occupations. The idea that nurses and teachers are often pictured as women whereas doctors and lawyers are often assumed to be men are examples of how highly engrained horizontal segregation is in our society.


The term vertical segregation describes men's domination of the highest status jobs in both traditionally male and traditionally female occupations.[5] Colloquially, the existence of vertical segregation is referred to as allowing men to ride in a "glass escalator" through which women must watch as men surpass them on the way to the top positions.[6] Generally, the more occupational segregation present in a country, the less vertical segregation there is because women have a better chance of obtaining the highest positions in a given occupation as their share of employment in that particular occupation increases.[7]

Vertical segregation can be somewhat difficult to measure across occupations because it refers to hierarchies within individual occupations. For example, the category of Education Professionals, (a category in the Australian Standard Classification of Occupations, Second Edition), is broken down into "School Teachers," "University and Vocational Education Teachers," and "Miscellaneous Education Professionals." These categories are then further broken down into subcategories. While these categories aptly describe the divisions within education, they are not comparable to the hierarchical categories within other occupations, and thus make comparisons of levels of vertical segregation quite difficult.[7]