Access to supervisory jobs and the gender wage gap among professionals.

Author:Mitra, Aparna

Significant gender wage gap exists in the U.S. labor market. Some of the factors attributed to the gender earnings gap include differential human capital attainment by males and females (Mincer 1962; Becker 1981), occupational segregation (Bergmann 1974), and discrimination. However, one potential factor contributing to the male-female wage differential may be the unequal access to and wage premiums for supervisory positions at the workplace. The distribution of authority positions between men and women is highly uneven. Men are much more likely to hold supervisory positions than women even after controlling for worker and job characteristics (Wolf and Fligstein 1979; Wright, Baxter, and Birkelund 1995; Rosenfeld, Van Buren, and Kalleberg 1998).

Most empirical studies have focused on the allocation of men and women in supervisory and managerial positions across all occupations, in general. Few have analyzed in detail the causes and impact of the differential access to supervisory jobs among professional men and women. During the past twenty years, the gap in educational attainment between men and women has narrowed substantially, and a large number of women have entered professional careers. The entry of women in professional jobs should improve the status of women in the labor market and lower the gender wage gap only if qualified women professionals earn comparable wages as professional men and are equally represented in meaningful supervisory positions. Although about 42 percent of women are represented in management positions (U.S. Department of Labor 1993), women account for less than 5 percent of top management positions (U.S. Department of Labor 1995). Therefore, from a public policy perspective, it is important to evaluate whether professional women with skills comparable to those of men are given equal opportunities to move up the career ladder in order to gain access to meaningful supervisory jobs that entail the utilization of their human capital skills and involve critical decision-making power. It is equally important to find out whether male and women supervisors of comparable skills and education earn uniform wage premiums.

Professional occupations encompass a wide range of jobs that require different levels of education and skills. However, detailed analyses by one-digit census classification did not provide enough of a sample size. Therefore, in order to compare workers with the same level of human capital attainment, this study focuses on professional workers who are college graduates with at least sixteen years of education.

Using 1998 data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), this study analyzes the allocation of men and women across supervisory positions as well as the wages earned by male and female supervisors in professional jobs, using controls for background, personal and human capital, and job characteristics. The NLSY contains detailed information about worker characteristics and their human capital attainment. Human capital variables, such as education, test scores, job experience, and tenure are expected to have significant impact both in the allocation process and in wage determination of men and women across supervisory positions in professional jobs. On the demand side, job attributes such as firm size, to some extent, reflect the impact of employers and company policies both in the allocation process and in wage determination.

Literature Review

The placement of professional men and women across different firms and establishments may contribute to differential access to supervisory positions and the gender wage gap. Empirical studies show that large employers offer higher wages and better benefits and opportunities for upward mobility than smaller firms and establishments (Brown, Hamilton, and Medoff 1990). Several studies show that within the same profession, men and women tend to be placed in different firms and establishments, with men being typically employed in higher-paying firms (Blau 1977; Talbert and Bose 1977). Initial placement in the labor market affects future career growth and wages as some firms offer training and opportunities for upward mobility that subsequently lead to higher wages, while other employers may not do so. While large firms are known to pay higher wages and provide better opportunities for formal and informal training (Bishop 1982), they are also characterized by internal labor markets where rules governing training, seniority, and promotions are dictated by a set of administrative rules and procedures that are not always clear cut.

While neoclassical economics postulates that human capital attributes and worker productivity are important sorting mechanisms across jobs in the labor market, institutional economists and sociologists contend that the labor market is not anonymous and that discrimination based on race, gender, age, marital status, and physical attributes often prevent the most productive workers from gaining access to high-paying jobs. Statistical discrimination based on the employer's and employee's perceptions of women's productivity and abilities may also affect placement and wages of women supervisors in the labor market. Male employees may dislike working under women supervisors, and employers may perceive women to be inferior managers. Milton Hakel and Marvin Dunette found that male managers, on average, were of the opinion that women are more compatible with clerical positions while men fit better in the role of managers and engineers (1970). G. Summers et al. found that managers often use gender as a screening criterion for making staffing decisions for production jobs (1976, 41-42). B. Rosen and T. H. Jerdee conducted a survey of 884 male managers and administrators across 66 establishments (1978). Participants were required to complete a questionnaire in which they had to rank males and females based on certain qualities that contribute to managerial skills. Males consistently received higher scores than women on leadership abilities, rationality, independence, aggressiveness, and understanding the "big picture." Women were attributed with qualities such as attention to details, clerical skills, lack of aggressiveness, being highly emotional, and prioritizing family issues ahead of career issues. Research that was done in the 1980s again shows that typically workers of both sexes consider males to be better suited for managerial duties than females. Women managers are seen as lacking in critical and independent thinking and are less aggressive than mate managers (Brenner, Tomkiewicz, and Schein 1989; Frank 1988; Heilman, Block, Martell, and Simon 1989). Thus, the criteria for upward mobility, whether or not they are related to worker productivity, are often based on norms and behavior of the majority, who happen to be males.

A large portion of the male-female wage gap results from the concentration of women in lower-paying jobs rather than from differential compensation to men and women holding the same jobs. Segregation of men and women into different jobs within the same occupation and firm contributes to the gender wage gap as males and females of comparable qualifications are allocated to different jobs and wage rates (Bridges and Berk 1978; Halaby 1979; Reskin and Ross 1990; Reskin and Roos 1991). Edward Lazear and Sherwin Rosen found that the differential placement of comparable men and women across different jobs contributes significantly to the gender wage gap (1990). When jobs are very narrowly defined, the authors did not find any significant gender wage gap. Additionally, women face a lower probability of being promoted and hence earn lower wages. Most important, the authors found that the criteria for being promoted are different for men and women, with women facing higher standards for promotion to supervisory jobs.

R. G. Wood, M. E. Corcoran, and P. N. Courant analyzed the gender wage gap among the graduates of the University of Michigan's Law School (1993). They used data from the fifteen-year surveys of the classes of 1972-75 and 1982-85. The authors found that among male and female lawyers with comparable human capital attainment and skills, men were employed in high-paying jobs, such as at large law firms, while female lawyers were employed in relatively low-paying jobs, such as government services. Additionally, controlling for detailed worker and human capital characteristics, the authors found that female lawyers earned about 20 percent less than males. Much of this earnings differential was attributed to statistical discrimination as well as customer discrimination.

Using data from the Current Population Survey (1988) and the General Social Survey, Jerry Jacobs (1992) analyzed the extent of gender differentials in the representation of management positions and wages. The results show that a large number of women were represented in management jobs between 1970 and 1988, resulting in a narrowing of the wage gap among men and women during this period. However, the author also found that male managers were much more likely to be placed in higher positions of management relative to women managers. Human capital attributes contributed very little in narrowing the gender gap in the attainment of high-level managerial jobs.

In general, empirical studies show that men are more likely to...

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