Job Search and the Occupational Segregation of Women



Abstract The segregation of women and men into distinctly different occupations is an important reason why women's position in the formal labor market is not on a par with men's. We investigate the extent to which differences in how people find their jobs help to explain gender-based occupational segregation. Our analysis is based upon in-depth personal interviews with women and men from a representative sample of 620 households living in the Worcester, Massachusetts metropolitan area in 1987. The majority of our respondents, both women and men, had not actively searched for their present jobs, but had “fallen into” them largely through informal personal contacts. The channels of information through which people obtained their jobs were, however, markedly different for women versus men, and for women in female-dominated occupations as opposed to women in male-dominated occupations. The gendered nature of social life leads women, and particularly women in female-dominated occupations, to receive job information from other women, whereas men find out about jobs from other men. Community-based contacts are more important for women than for men and are particularly so for women in female-dominated occupations. The gendered nature of social life also prompts women to value different job attributes from men; women who end up in female-dominated occupations privilege the job's proximity to home and suitable work hours over and above wage considerations. Women search more locally than do men, and from a residential location that cannot be shifted to accommodate a job location; they draw upon personal contacts that reinforce both the local nature of the job search and the gendering of occupations. These findings suggest that the prevailing economists’ formalized approach to modeling the job-finding process contributes little to understanding women's position in the labor market.