I think it's fairly cut-and-dried that the inclusion of women in traditionally male-dominated fields is a step forward for gender equality. It's good when people get to do stuff! Down with segregation! Up with people! But it turns out, in a backwards way, that gender-integrated workplaces might actually be a hindrance for equalizing compensation. A new study finds that nations where men and women share occupations have wider pay gaps than nations where the genders work separately:

Women earn less money than men the more the sexes share the same occupations, a large-scale survey of 20 industrialised countries has found.

Researchers from the universities of Cambridge, UK, and Lakehead, Canada, found that the more women and men keep to different trades and professions, the more equal is the overall pay average for the two sexes in a country.

The researchers attribute the surprising results to the fact that when there are few men in an occupation, women have more chance to get to the top and earn more. But where there are more equal numbers of men and women working in an occupation the men dominate the high-paying jobs.

...Pay was most equal in Slovenia, where women on average earn slightly more than men, and in Mexico, Brazil, Sweden and Hungary, where women earn almost as much as men on average. In these countries men and women work in different occupations to a greater extent than in many of the other countries the researchers looked at.

Well, obviously the only solution—if we truly want gender equality—is for everyone on earth to move to Slovenia. Duh.

Or, no. The point I personally take from this is that this battle is difficult. It's difficult to convince even well-meaning people to let go of their privilege and share some of the pie. It's difficult to defeat deep, subconscious, systemic behavioral patterns—like the fact that women tend to become more quiet and submissive when they're surrounded by men, that men tend to take women less seriously by default, and that everyone gets territorial and defensive when they feel an "other" encroaching on "their" space.

"Higher overall segregation tends to reduce male advantage and improve the position of women," the researchers say in their paper.

"The greater the degree of overall segregation, the less the possibility exists for discrimination against women and so there is more scope for women to develop progressive careers.

"For instance, within nursing men disproportionately fill the senior positions...but the fewer the number of male nurses, the more the senior positions must be filled by women.


I won't be surprised if hardline conservative groups try to use this study as evidence that progressivism—not patriarchy—is what's holding women back. That if we just stop whining we'll no longer have anything to whine about. But that, of course, is horseshit. Women aren't not looking for equal pay within an inherently unequal power structure—that's just de facto separate-but-equal garbage. Women are looking for the opportunity to do the jobs that we want to do and get paid a fair wage for doing them. We want an equal slice of the pie and equal control over the knife.

So the point isn't that gender segregation is good for women. The point is that we reward people for knowing their place. And sorry, you can't bribe me into knowing mine with a measly few cents.

Women earn more if they work in different occupations than men [Eurekalert]

Photo credit: andresr / Stockfresh.