Feminization of jobs: when work performed by women pays less

Photo by  mauro mora  on  Unsplash

Photo by mauro mora on Unsplash

The other side of the gender pay gap


The Gender Pay Gap is often discussed. It refers to the fact that women in countries such as Germany earn about 21% less money than their male counterparts. Several factors account for this: for example, women have less professional experience overall due to career breaks (as they go on maternity leave or take on part-time work). Career choices also come into play: women often opt for occupations with a lower average wage. Either women choose jobs that pay less well, or what we refer to as female occupations are systematically paid less. We'll get to the bottom of this in this article. 


Comparable Worth Index

A comparative study conducted by the Institute for Work and Qualification (IAQ) of the University of Duisburg-Essen (link: https://www.boeckler.de/v_2018_03_16_klammer_klenner_lillemeier.pdf) assessed how qualifications and requirements for a certain occupation are renumerated. To put it simply: it was assessed whether a better qualification and increased demands on the job lead to a higher wage. This was done for women's occupations (= 70% and more women in the profession), male occupations (=70% ad more of men) and mixed professions (with women presenting between 30-70% of the workforce).

The result: In typically “female” jobs having a higher level of qualification pays off less than in male occupations.

What are the implications of this insight? In typically male professions, possessing a better education has more value and eventually results in a higher salary. This is called the Comparable Worth Index. In essence, it states that as women's occupational requirements increase, the wages do not rise as much as in comparable jobs for men. In “male”occupations, wages increase by 6.4% for every higher requirement, and only 4.7% for women. This does not mean that women are paid less in the same job as men, but that the professional roles that are primarily filled by women are systematically not as well renumerated at those filled by men.


Feminization of work

In another study, researchers Emily Murphy and Daniel Oesch, revealed that when a profession is primarily practiced by women, it pays less (link: https://serval.unil.ch/resource/serval:BIB_394986C05943.P001/REF). If the proportion of women is 60% or more in a professional role, the average wage is lower. Interestingly enough, if a profession is traditionally a women's occupation, the pay gap for both women and men in this profession is lower compared to traditional male occupations. However, if a profession is more of a male occupation and an increased number of women opt for it, the average wage of all women in this profession will decrease, but not the wages of men.


Why is that? Here are the different perspectives:

One group says that women invest less in human capital, especially in job-specific training, are more concerned with parenting and often choose jobs that allow them to work part-time. Often, these professions (such as nursing) are generally poorly paid, regardless of whether they are filled by women or men. In essence, the first group claims that women choose jobs with lower productivity for the economy.

The other group says that occupations that women choose are culturally considered to be less valuable and that this manifests itself as a lower wage.

Researchers believe that this has several reasons. Various social studies have mentioned the following reasons, among others:

  1. Occupational Activities: Women's occupations are often occupations that are close to household activities (such as nursing, education) and thereby stigmatized to be less valuable

  2. Role models: Both genders consider it normal for women to earn less than men, i. the pay gap is considered less problematic.

  3. Salary negotiations: Women are less likely to ask for a salary increase. Fun Fact: The Comparable Worth Index is less strong when there are collective agreements, i. E. if these exist, the difference between salary and job requirements is smaller between men and women. In other words, if one negotiates the pay for women, the difference between a man and a woman is smaller.


The “right” measures

The discussion of why women's jobs are paid less is multifaceted. Whether it is the women's career choices that lead to a lower pay or the fact that jobs are paid less because women choose them first is a matter for further research. It may be a combination of both. Several measures could help to remedy this pattern:

  1. Interventions for an increase of women in typical male occupations and an improvement of the agreement of family and work in male occupations

  2. Measures for a higher salary transparency within a company, but also more demands on the part of female employees for a higher salary

  3. Interventions against typical role models: making male occupations more attractive for women. There are quite a few exciting aspects pertaining to the latter: Women who attended all girls' schools more often choose STEM (Mathematics, Computer Science, Science and Technology) subjects at universities compared to women from mixed schools. One possible explanation is: MINT subjects are not considered a male domain as they are not available at girls' schools. Should we revert to having separate schools again? No, but an awareness of role models would be helpful. There seems to be an effort to get more women into these professions, which can lead to higher salaries for women. In very male-dominated occupations such as construction, architecture, vehicle, aerospace, shipbuilding or even engineering, women are often better paid than their male counterparts.

    What is the implication for you?

    From our point of view, it takes time for male and female salaries to adjust. This does not mean that this happens on its own. Quite the contrary, as Albert Einstein once said: "Problems can never be solved with the same way of thinking that created them." In this sense, we ask that you can also be part of these changes.

Written by Clara Creitz
Finelles Founder. Coach and Consultant (UBS, Towers Watson). 



(4 min read)