Gender Differences in Perceptions of Stress-Related Variables: Do the People Make the Place or Does the Place Make the People?

Article excerpt

For quite some time it has been assumed that some occupations are "female jobs," such as nursing and teaching, while others, such as management and administration are inherently "male jobs" (Martin and Harkreader, 1993). However, many work environments that were once gender-segregated have recently seen greater participation by both men and women (Fairhurst and Snavely, 1983; Steen et al., 1994.).

This phenomenon has led to a considerable amount of research that has reanalyzed work environment effects on a variety of organizational phenomenon such as job mobility (Waddoups and Assane, 1993; Howell and Reese, 1986) and wage differentials (Bergman, 1989; Martin and Harkreader, 1993). One issue, however, that has received little attention concerns the perceptions of those who occupy these changing work environments. For example, do male and female employees who are members of "gender-integrated" occupations (i.e., occupations in which the number of male and female employees are approximately equal) perceive their work environments differently? Do these perceptions change when males and females are working in predominately male or female occupations? For example, the nursing profession has long been characterized as being female-based. Recently, however, more males have become members of this occupation. Do male and female nurses experience similar perceptions of their work outcomes, or do gender differences surface? Interestingly, gender research has been somewhat neglectful of the effects of market segmentation on perceptions and behaviors (Rosenfeld and Spenner, 1992). In general, very little empirical research assessing the impact of occupational gender dominance on organizational outcome variables can be found in the literature.

Some exceptions do exist. For example, Etzion (1988) and Bailyn (1987) matched male and female engineers along the dimensions of age, occupational level, salary, and family structure. Findings from these studies indicated that females were better able to desegregate work success with private life when compared to their counterparts. Another exception is Hall (1989) who examined organizational context. Specifically, Hall (1989) posited that gender domination within an organization (i.e., the percentage of males versus females) would have a significant effect on employee work outcomes. Her study indicated that work control (i.e., perceptions that one can affect change in the organization) was consistently higher among men even in female-dominated occupations.

The present investigation is an attempt to partially replicate and extend the studies discussed above. The sample used in this study was partitioned into a male-dominated group (with male membership greater than 75%), a female-dominated group (with female participation greater than 75%), or an integrated group (dominated neither by males or females). The occupations in this sample conform with national labor statistic data and the partitioning procedure is similar to one used in Hall's (1989) study. Contrary to the Hall (1989) study, however, this study focuses on occupational membership rather than simply organizational membership. Specifically, it will be determined whether participation in occupations that are dominated by one gender affects perceptions of such work variables as job demands, work control, and job stress. Occupational status, rather than work place or organizational context, was chosen as this study's domain of interest for several reasons. First, occupations that are similar may elicit similar employee expectations. Thus, both males and females within analogous occupational categories are likely to be burdened with similar job demands. Also, equity theory research suggests that one of the most frequently used referent is an individual who performs a similar task in either the same or different organizational contexts (Goodman, 1974; Miles et al., 1994). Thus, when individuals are asked to provide their perceptions pertaining to their work outcomes, their perceptions of others who do comparable work often affects their perceptions of their own job. …