Occupational Gender Segregation in Canada, 1981-1996: Overall, Vertical and Horizontal Segregation

By Brooks, Bradley; Jarman, Jennifer et al. | The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, May 2003 | Go to article overview

Occupational Gender Segregation in Canada, 1981-1996: Overall, Vertical and Horizontal Segregation


Brooks, Bradley, Jarman, Jennifer, Blackburn, Robert M., The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology


THE OCCUPATIONAL STRUCTURE IS A DYNAMIC ENTITY that changes constantly in response to shifts in the nature of economic activity, changes in the available labour force, and changes in the legal and institutional frameworks that govern workers and employers. Since the late 1970s, sociologists have been interested in ways that the occupational structure is gendered, and the consequences this has for gender inequalities more broadly. This having been said, there has been little empirical research analysing occupational gender segregation patterns in Canada. There have been relatively few Canadian studies (e.g., Kidd and Shannon, 1996; Boyd, 1990; Gunderson, 1978; Fox and Fox, 1986; 1987). Furthermore, there has been no previous research that has assessed the relative weights of its constituent dimensions-vertical and horizontal segregation. In most societies, there is a strong tendency for women and men to work in different occupations. To some extent tbis entails inequality between the sexes, usually of the form that the higher the proportion of men in an occupation the more desirable is the occupation (vertical segregation). However, this is by no means completely so, and the extent to which gendered separation into different occupations does not entail inequality is represented by horizontal segregation.

The purpose of this article is to measure and examine occupational gender segregation in Canada from 1981 to 1996, in order to try to understand how gender inequalities have changed over this period. Using concepts of vertical and horizontal segregation introduced in our previous work (Blackburn, Brooks and Jarman, 2001a), we find that vertical segregation has declined substantially over this period. We show how segregation is related to other aspects of gender inequality, especially changes in gendered occupational concentration patterns and in the gendered pay gap. Finally we argue that it is the full-time work force that has shown the greatest declines in gender inequality while changes in the part-time work force have been as much due to the relative losses by men as to women's gains.

Conceptualizing Occupational Gender Segregation

Occupational segregation is intrinsically about the separation of men and women workers from each other in the occupational structure. It has been argued elsewhere (Siltanen, Jarman and Blackburn, 1995) that the debates over the nature of gendered employment patterns have suffered because the term "segregation" has often been used in a very general manner. In our work we have found it helpful to use the terms "segregation" and "concentration," as describing different labour force patterns. Segregation concerns the tendency for men and women to be employed across the entire spectrum of occupations under analysis, whereas concentration is concerned with the sex composition of the work force in a single occupation or set of occupations. Both kinds of pattern are important in a comprehensive study of gendered inequality, but they are analytically distinct. Here, due to space constraints, we focus on exploring the segregation trends, in order to set a context for further research using both concentration analyses and qualitative approaches.

The components of segregation indicate how segregation is related to inequality. The vertical component represents inequality in a labour force (or a section of one) directly. This component can be measured empirically to estimate inequality that may be associated with any number of characteristics that determine an occupation's place in the hierarchy, considered singly or in some theoretically meaningful combination (e.g., pay, prestige, social advantage, etc.). (1) The horizontal component of segregation may be conceptualized as representing difference without inequality, or put another way, difference that is mutually exclusive from the specific form of inequality we are measuring in the vertical component. (2)

A useful way to conceptualize segregation is to consider a right-angle triangle, with the arm on the y-axis representing vertical segregation, that on the x-axis representing horizontal segregation. …

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