Taxi Drivers, Cashiers, and Restaurant Servers: A Cross-Cultural Study of Gender Differences

By Ellis, Lee; Awang, Siti Nor | Mankind Quarterly, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview
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Taxi Drivers, Cashiers, and Restaurant Servers: A Cross-Cultural Study of Gender Differences

Ellis, Lee, Awang, Siti Nor, Mankind Quarterly

In Western cultures, pronounced gender differences in occupations have been well documented, but comparable differences in other countries have been minimally investigated. The present study used direct observation to compare gender differences in persons performing three occupations - taxi driver, cashier, and restaurant server - in one Western country (the United States) and two non-Western countries (China and Malaysia). Results revealed that in all three countries, taxi drivers are overwhelmingly males while cashiers and restaurant servers are predominantly females. In fact, the gender ratios for these occupations in all three countries were statistically equivalent. While difficult-to-identify social factors may also play a role in determining occupational choices by men and women, the present study seems more compatible with suggestions that evolved neurohormonal factors may be involved. Consequently, the discussion proposes that biological factors incline males toward taxi driving because this line of work makes heavy demands on spatial reasoning skills. Females, on the other hand, are hypothesized to be drawn toward being cashiers and restaurant servers because of the social orientation and social skills required of these occupations.

Key words: Gender differences; Occupational choices; Sex roles; Testosterone; Interests; Neurology; Evolutionary psychology; Spatial reasoning; Social orientation.

Gender differences in occupations have been documented in Western countries for over a century (e.g., Durkheim, 1893/1984; England, 1981; Charles, 1992; Anker, 1998; Wootton, 1997). These differences are so dramatic for many lines of work that well over half of all gainfullyemployed persons would have to change jobs in order to achieve gender equality in all occupations (Bianchi & Spain, 1996, p. 23; Lewis & Nice, 1994).

So far, nearly all of the studies of occupation-specific sex segregation have involved relatively high social status occupations, such as attorneys, college professors, corporate executives, engineers, nurses, physicians, politicians, and teachers in Western countries (Ellis et al., 2008, pp. 790- 805). And rarely has research been reported from non- Western countries that could be directly compared to what was found in the West. This has been especially true for occupations that are of low to moderate occupational status. To begin rectifying these deficiencies, the present study examines sex differences in three middle-to-low status occupations in the United States and in two quite different non-Western countries, China and Malaysia.


Observations were made of people involved in three occupations between 2007 and 2010 in large cities in China, Malaysia, and the United States. The occupations were those of taxi drivers, store and restaurant cashiers, and restaurant servers. The gender of the persons performing each of these occupations was recorded on the spot within an hour after observation.

At some of the smaller restaurants, about 5% of the restaurant servers also functioned as cashiers. These individuals were only tallied once for whichever of these two jobs they were observed performing first.

Efforts were made to verify the data on sex differences in these three occupations from government-based statistics. However, these efforts were not successful due mainly to each country maintaining their statistics in different ways. Also, only the United States appears to have made its statistics on sex differences in occupations readily available in published form.

Data from the U.S. indicate that 95% of persons in "transportation and material moving occupations" were males in 1975 and that the percentage 20 years later was 90% (Wootton, 1997, p. 17). A more recent study put the percentage of "motor vehicle operators" who were men at 88% (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2008). This category not only included taxi drivers, but also bus and truck drivers.

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Taxi Drivers, Cashiers, and Restaurant Servers: A Cross-Cultural Study of Gender Differences


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