Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

The Role of Gender in Job Promotions

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

The Role of Gender in Job Promotions

Article excerpt

Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth indicate that most young men and women are promoted in their jobs on the basis of performance; although a gender gap in the rate of promotion does exist, the gap was smaller in 1996 than in 1990

Firms often use promotions both to give workers an incentive to work hard and to retain valuable employees while, at the same time, filling higher level positions. In addition to giving workers financial rewards, promotions afford them the incentive and opportunity to acquire new skills or additional training that may ultimately--especially among young workers who are promoted--result in permanent earnings differences.(1) Given this potential, efforts have increasingly focused on understanding the role of gender in the promotion process. The concern is that differential opportunities for promotion may contribute to the wage gap that currently exists between the genders, either directly, by influencing wages and wage growth, or indirectly, by contributing to labor market segregation, which is in turn related to relative wages.(2)

This article examines the role of gender in the promotion process for young men and women early in their careers. It first highlights the qualitative nature of promotions and then focuses on who gets promoted by considering the characteristics of men and women who have been promoted. Finally, the relationship between labor market conditions--in particular, unemployment rates, and employment growth in industries and occupations--and promotion is assessed.(3)

The data

The data are drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The NLSY began in 1979 and is a longitudinal survey of young people who were aged 14 to 21 in that year. In 1989-90 and again in 1996, NLSY respondents were asked a series of questions about their promotion experiences with their current employer. In particular, respondents were asked whether they had been promoted in their current job since the start of that job or since the date of the last interview, whichever was more recent. Given the NLSY survey design, all references to a job are essentially references to an employer; thus, for the purposes of this article, "promotion" means "internal promotion." As a result of the particular years the questions on promotion were asked and the ages of the respondents when they were asked the questions, the article is able to consider the promotion opportunities of men and women as they move from being relatively inexperienced workers (aged 25 to 32) into their prime working ages (32 to 39).(4)

The sample consists of individuals who were currently working (or who had worked during the past 2 years) for 30 hours or more per week. These workers must also have held the job they cited for at least 9 weeks. Persons excluded from the sample were the self-employed, those working for no pay, and those who were included in the survey as part of the military sample. Hispanics, blacks, and economically disadvantaged nonblack, non-Hispanic persons were oversampled in the survey.(5)

Employment growth rates for 46 detailed industries and 44 detailed occupations were calculated by using the 1988-90 and 1994-96 Current Population Surveys (CPS's) and were appended to each individual record.(6) This procedure permits a consideration of the extent to which promotion opportunities for young men and women might be influenced by macroeconomic conditions.(7)

What is a promotion?

What is involved in a promotion? Are the qualitative characteristics of a promotion the same for the young men and young women in the NLSY? Table 1 presents detailed information about the promotion process for workers who were promoted at least once between 1988 and 1990; table 2 presents similar information about promotions occurring between 1994 and 1996.

Table 1. Characteristics of promotions, 1990


    Characteristic                               Men   Women

 Workers promoted (number)                     1,192     938

Increase in job responsibilities:
 Promoted workers                               84. … 
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