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Occupational segregation study shows existence of ‘women’s work’

Media release

Research from the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has found occupational segregation, where employment choices are based on gender stereotypes, leaves women less satisfied with their pay than men, but happier with the type of work they do.

Census data shows women make up 98 per cent of all personal assistants and secretaries and more than 90 per cent of receptionists, childcare workers, education aides and nurses.

Associate Professor Michael Dockery, Research Fellow at the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, said the study examined whether the high degree of gender segregation across occupations in Australia were due to women preferring to do certain types of work, or whether it was due to women’s choice of occupations being governed by social norms.

“The study found women working in highly feminised occupations are less satisfied with their pay than other women working in roles typically dominated by men. Further, the few males working in those occupations are very dissatisfied with their pay,” Associate Professor Dockery said.

“While there are possible non-discriminatory explanations for this outcome, there is the very real likelihood that these jobs are low paid because they are highly feminised.”

Previous research has shown women’s identities shift once they become mothers, and the work done in highly feminised occupations may fit more closely with their identity as a mother and secondary income earner.

“Our research determined that although unhappy with the pay, women are more satisfied with the type of work they do when they work in more feminised occupations,” Associate Professor Dockery said.

“It turns out this mainly applies to working mothers. Even more than with the type of work done, women working in those occupations are particularly more satisfied with the hours of work and their flexibility to balance work and non-work commitments.

“These findings suggest occupational choice is driven by gender norms of the ‘male breadwinner model’ in which the woman assumes the role of primary carer and secondary income earner within the family.”

The paper, titled Occupational segregation and women’s job satisfaction, can be downloaded from the Bankwest Curtin Economic Centre website: http://business.curtin.edu.au/our-research/centres-and-institutes/bankwest-curtin-economics-centre/working-papers/.

The research was done in collaboration with Dr Sandra Buchler from Goethe University, Frankfurt.