Low skilled men's access to low skilled female dominated jobs: An occupational case-study approach.

Author: Megan Moskos

Moskos, Megan, 2012 Low skilled men's access to low skilled female dominated jobs: An occupational case-study approach., Flinders University, National Institute of Labour Studies

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Labour market restructuring and the emergence of the 'service economy' have had profound impacts on the nature of work and the gender composition of employment in industrialised countries. Stagnating participation rates for low skilled men suggests that this cohort is struggling to adjust to the demands of the new economy. Centred around detailed case studies of four strategically chosen female dominated occupations, this research uses occupational sex segregation - a concept traditionally used to explain women's employment outcomes - to understand low skilled men's employment opportunities. To select the occupations for case study, an analysis of 1996 and 2006 census data was conducted. This located female dominated occupations where employment had increased for workers with low levels of formal education and ascertained the extent to which men had been successful in securing these jobs. Two occupations were chosen where men had not experienced an increase in their gender share of employment, child care and sale assistants; and two were chosen where men had experienced an increase in their gender share of employment, aged care and commercial cleaning. The case study approach involved 107 interviews with men who might take jobs in these occupations (i.e. unemployed men), employers, male workers and clients or customers. Consistent with existing understandings, a number of supply side processes operate to reduce men's willingness to gain and maintain employment within traditional female occupations. Some of these processes are clearly related to gender essentialism and the thesis highlights the mechanisms by which this operates to generate occupational sex segregation. Other processes are more about men's negative experiences of a female dominated work environment, and broader labour market conditions that attract or deter people from jobs in general. These types of exclusionary mechanisms are largely ignored in existing research. Importantly, there is compelling evidence that, contrary to existing theories, there are demand side mechanisms that operate at the lower end of the labour market to limit men's movements into gender atypical occupations. Gender essentialism is again central to most of these. Others are related to labour market processes or mechanisms that produce and reproduce occupation sex segregation. Despite the power of gender essentialism in limiting men's inroads into gender atypical occupations, processes on both the supply and demand side reduce or moderate its impact. In addition, gender essentialism was found to have an integrative function, with many managers, clients and male workers perceiving certain aspects of employment within the case study occupations to require, or be compatible with, male traits or proclivities. This dispels the common contention that gender essentialism operates solely to segregate on the basis of sex. Importantly, while facilitating men's integration into gender atypical occupations, even these integrative processes in the main actually reinforce male gender essentialism and result in gender segmentation within female dominated occupations. This helps us understand why gender essentialism is so intractable. Even when it operates in integrative ways, its consequence is actually to reproduce itself. These findings have implications for the ways in which gender segregation is theorised and generated in the workplace.

Keywords: Occupational sex segregation,Low skilled men,Case study research,Labour market participation

Subject: Sociology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2012
School: National Institute of Labour Studies
Supervisor: Prof. Bill Martin & Prof. Sue Richardson