Access to Supervisory Jobs and the Gender Wage Gap among Professionals

By Mitra, Aparna | Journal of Economic Issues, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Access to Supervisory Jobs and the Gender Wage Gap among Professionals


Mitra, Aparna, Journal of Economic Issues


Significant gender wage gap exists in the U.S. labor market. Some of the factors attributed to the gender earnings gap include differential human capital attainment by males and females (Mincer 1962; Becker 1981), occupational segregation (Bergmann 1974), and discrimination. However, one potential factor contributing to the male-female wage differential may be the unequal access to and wage premiums for supervisory positions at the workplace. The distribution of authority positions between men and women is highly uneven. Men are much more likely to hold supervisory positions than women even after controlling for worker and job characteristics (Wolf and Fligstein 1979; Wright, Baxter, and Birkelund 1995; Rosenfeld, Van Buren, and Kalleberg 1998).

Most empirical studies have focused on the allocation of men and women in supervisory and managerial positions across all occupations, in general. Few have analyzed in detail the causes and impact of the differential access to supervisory jobs among professional men and women. During the past twenty years, the gap in educational attainment between men and women has narrowed substantially, and a large number of women have entered professional careers. The entry of women in professional jobs should improve the status of women in the labor market and lower the gender wage gap only if qualified women professionals earn comparable wages as professional men and are equally represented in meaningful supervisory positions. Although about 42 percent of women are represented in management positions (U.S. Department of Labor 1993), women account for less than 5 percent of top management positions (U.S. Department of Labor 1995). Therefore, from a public policy perspective, it is important to evaluate whether professional women with skills comparable to those of men are given equal opportunities to move up the career ladder in order to gain access to meaningful supervisory jobs that entail the utilization of their human capital skills and involve critical decision-making power. It is equally important to find out whether male and women supervisors of comparable skills and education earn uniform wage premiums.

Professional occupations encompass a wide range of jobs that require different levels of education and skills. However, detailed analyses by one-digit census classification did not provide enough of a sample size. Therefore, in order to compare workers with the same level of human capital attainment, this study focuses on professional workers who are college graduates with at least sixteen years of education.

Using 1998 data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), this study analyzes the allocation of men and women across supervisory positions as well as the wages earned by male and female supervisors in professional jobs, using controls for background, personal and human capital, and job characteristics. The NLSY contains detailed information about worker characteristics and their human capital attainment. Human capital variables, such as education, test scores, job experience, and tenure are expected to have significant impact both in the allocation process and in wage determination of men and women across supervisory positions in professional jobs. On the demand side, job attributes such as firm size, to some extent, reflect the impact of employers and company policies both in the allocation process and in wage determination.

Literature Review

The placement of professional men and women across different firms and establishments may contribute to differential access to supervisory positions and the gender wage gap. Empirical studies show that large employers offer higher wages and better benefits and opportunities for upward mobility than smaller firms and establishments (Brown, Hamilton, and Medoff 1990). Several studies show that within the same profession, men and women tend to be placed in different firms and establishments, with men being typically employed in higher-paying firms (Blau 1977; Talbert and Bose 1977). …

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Access to Supervisory Jobs and the Gender Wage Gap among Professionals
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