Sex segregation of the labour market

In the United Kingdom, sex segregation of the labour market is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Discuss. The role of women in the labour market has changed dramatically in the last decades. In the 1950's, when more than half of the male population were working, only a little more than a third of the female population were economically active. In the UK, in the year 2002, 84% of the male population and 73% of the female population were economically active (Irwing, 2003).

Although there is an obvious increase in the number of women in the labour market, the majority of women are still concentrated in low pay, low status and gender segregated jobs (Davidson et al. , 1993). Many procedures have taken place to give equal opportunities to both of the sexes such as legislations or special provisions to help women balance their lives between work and family, but the 'glass ceiling' is still there. In order to cease sex segregation, sex stereotypes need to adapt to the modern role of women in society.

Nonetheless, there is a need for change in daily habits in order to change the population's way of thinking, and this will only change with time and effort. Sex segregation will be analyzed in this essay by examining the history of sex segregation, sex stereotypes, provisions and sex legislations against sex discrimination and typical difficulties women are faced with in the office. Sex segregation has its roots in the seventeenth century, where most men did agricultural work while women managed the household and manufactured most of the items the household consumed.

Women also earned income by providing goods and services such as homemade products (soap, lace, etc) and caring for the sick. (Reskin and Padavic, 1994). Although growth in the eighteenth century enabled families to run small businesses, widows were the only women who were independent entrepreneurs. The western society slowly began to industrialize in the nineteenth century, causing an alteration in the type of work carried out by each sex. Many of the women's duties were now moved to the market and done by men.

As a consequence, these jobs were defined as men's work whilst women were left with few occupations, which were usually poorly paid and had bad working conditions (Alvesson and Billing, 1997). In the beginning of the twentieth century, bureaucratized firms started to need numerous clerks and usually hired women because of their low wages. Likewise schools taught women to run typewriters, etc. Although, there were now more openings for women, employers still reserved jobs with positions of responsibility for men and convinced women to stop working after they got married to keep their wages low.

The wars drew men out of the labour force and into the military. These soldiers' jobs were now available to women, unfortunately when the wars ended, employers rehired the men (Reskin and Padavic, 1994). Now more than ever, women take part in the labour market. However this doesn't mean that they are completely integrated at work, stereotyped thinking is still the major cause of sex inequality. Sex stereotypes have an important impact on society, as they are usually the basis for behaviour in men and women (Carlson et al.

, 1997). These cultural beliefs affect everyone in a civilization, and unless someone purposely confronts another's assumptions about sex roles, stereotypes are rarely questioned. Because stereotypes are learnt subconsciously, they are especially powerful in shaping our behaviour (Reskin and Padavic, 1994). For women, a typical stereotype is that the female gender role has "negative qualities that are likely to result in ineffective performance on a job" (Comer and Drollinger, 1997, p. 2).

Employers are likely to refuse promoting or employing women on the basis that they are too committed to their family and therefore will not be able to devote enough time to their work. This assertion, however, is only an attempt to justify their assumption that women are too 'caring' to have a powerful business career, whereas men are perceived to have rough characteristics, which are supposedly more valuable for business (Lane and Crane, 2002). Although, men and women may differ in character traits, this does not mean that they are not as capable as their sexual counterpart to fulfil a certain task.

Stereotypes can be viewed as generalisations based on groups rather than on individual merit, therefore they can be criticised on the basis of fairness and equality (Lane and Crane, 2002). In order to give women an equal opportunity to reach top level positions, certain provisions have been made such as sex legislations, protection against dismissal of pregnant woman, etc. Although, these provisions provide a basis for equality, a change in stereotyped thinking is needed for true equality to be established.