Occupational Ghettos: The Worldwide Segregation of Women and Men

Maria Charles and David B. Grusky.  Occupational Ghettos: The Worldwide Segregation of Women and Men.  Stanford University Press, 2004, 400 pp.  $US 55.00 hardcover (0-8047-3634-0).

There is a substantial body of literature showing that, across time periods and nations, men and women have tended to do different types of work.  While many studies suggest that sex segregation has decreased in recent decades, it has been a remarkably persistent characteristic of the labour market.  In their recent book, Occupational Ghettos, Maria Charles and David Grusky examine the extent of segregation in ten nations, and uncover the underlying patterns of segregation by sex.  Their central question is the following: why has sex segregation persisted, despite the proliferation of ideals of gender equality?  To answer this question they draw distinctions between vertical and horizontal forms of segregation, and “manual” and “nonmanual” occupations.  They argue that egalitarian forces reduce vertical segregation in “non-manual” occupations (predominantly managerial, professional, sales and service jobs) by facilitating women’s entrance into high-status professional and managerial occupations.  Nevertheless, because ideals of gender equality are combined with notions of gender essentialism — the belief that men and women are essentially different and have different skills and abilities — horizontal segregation persists.  Women’s labour is concentrated in non-manual jobs, while men still predominate in the skilled trades, and in manufacturing, agricultural and unskilled manual work.

This book makes at least three significant contributions to its field.  First, it develops new ways of measuring and modelling segregation that allow us to gain a more accurate picture of the extent of, and trends in, segregation.  The authors argue that the traditional measure — the index of dissimilarity (D) — is biassed because it is margin dependent and “any changes in D may proceed either from changes in the occupational structure or from more fundamental institutional changes . . .” (p 42).  This flaw becomes fatal when D is used to assess trends across nations or time periods, since variations in occupational structures are frequently evident.  The authors’ new index, “A”, is margin-free, and therefore a more accurate measure of the extent of segregation across time and place.  Charles and Grusky then use this new measure (along with older ones) to assess the extent of segregation across ten nations.

Second, the authors turn our attention away from the extent of segregation, to explore the patterns that underlie it.  Patterns of sex segregation at the aggregate job level, they argue, can be captured with three parameters.  The first of these considers vertical segregation amongst non-manual occupations, and the extent to which men predominate in the most-desirable (i.e., professional and managerial) occupational groupings.  The second governs vertical segregation or male dominance in desirable manual jobs (crafts and trades).  The third parameter governs horizontal segregation between manual and non-manual occupations.  Charles and Grusky demonstrate how these three parameters can capture patterns of sex segregation in the labour market more accurately than traditional conceptualizations (like queuing theory) where only one vertical axis, in which men dominate the best jobs, is postulated.  The authors further show that although these parameters are helpful in explaining segregation at the aggregate job level across nations, segregation at the more detailed occupational level is more chaotic and is the product of a multitude of local labour market, cultural and other factors.

Third, the authors explore how patterns of segregation are shaped by two recent, international social trends: egalitarianism, defined as “a commitment to gender-based equality of opportunity” (104), and post-industrialism, which they define in terms of service sector size and economic rationalization (the latter measured, somewhat questionably, as the percentage of the active labour force that is employed rather than self-employed, or working as an employer or unpaid family worker).  The authors’ analyses indicate that while egalitarianism appears to have reduced segregation in the non-manual sphere over time and across nations, it has actually contributed to slight increases in horizontal segregation and vertical segregation in the non-manual sector.  Egalitarianism has opened up more opportunities for women in the non-manual sphere than in manual jobs.  Post-industrialism, in contrast, actually increases vertical segregation within non-manual jobs and horizontal segregation as it is associated with the expansion of female-dominated sales and service work.  Thus, the authors show that while some social trends contribute to a decrease in sex segregation over time, others are contributing to its increase.  These findings are eye-opening, and go some lengths to explain why sex segregation still persists at a relatively high level, despite the spread of laws and social norms supporting gender equality.

Throughout the book, Charles and Grusky maintain their focus on gender and occupational segregation, despite a wide body of literature showing how gender intersects with ethnicity, race, age, and citizenship to shape social experience.  Acknowledging this, the authors attempt to broaden the book’s focus by including several case studies, written with and by collaborators, that consider other factors shaping segregation.  A chapter on segregation in Japan since 1950 considers the significance of age, while a chapter on Switzerland considers how that country’s labour force is segregated by gender and citizenship.  The focus of the book is further broadened by the addition of two other chapters: one evaluating traditional explanations of longitudinal trends in sex segregation in the United States (written by Kim Weeden), and the other, considering the extent of industrial segregation and its interaction with occupational segregation in that country (written by Weeden and Jesper Sorensen).  These chapters are well-written, interesting and insightful; however, the addition of a chapter considering occupational segregation by race and ethnicity would have been welcome.

The biggest disappointment, from Canadian readers’ point of view, is that Canada is not one of the 10 countries examined by Charles and Grusky.  Rather, largely for methodological reasons, they focus on Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan.  Nevertheless, the book’s underlying arguments appear applicable to Canadian contexts, and future research could determine the extent to which they fit Canadian patterns and trends.

Overall, I highly recommend this book.  It is essential reading for anyone studying occupational segregation, and valuable for scholars in a range of fields including gender studies, work, social inequality, and comparative-historical sociology.  Although the book’s focus on methodology renders much of it too dense for undergraduate and more casual readers, even they will find the case studies accessible and informative.

Tracey L. Adams, University of Western Ontario.  This review was first published by Canadian Journal of Sociology Online (November 2005); it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.