New research shows women now predominate in higher status jobs, but the gender pay gap persists.
However, men still dominate the senior positions.
Dr Robert Blackburn, of the University of Cambridge, analysed data on several million European workers and found that women are now more likely to work in higher-status occupations than men, in what he calls “a quiet revolution in the workplace”, although the change was not as significant in Britain as in most of the other countries.
The research found that in the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK, women tended to predominate in higher-status occupations. Only in Austria were men more likely to be found in these occupations. It also found the same predominance of women in higher-status occupations in the USA.
Dr Blackburn, Emeritus Reader in Sociology, said he believed there had been change in the past half-century from men tending to have higher status jobs. He said he thought this was caused by women moving away from manual labour as the number of manual jobs declines.
The research focused on 300 occupations which were independently rated for their social status. Other research has shown that the jobs that are higher status also tend to be more interesting and give the employee more autonomy.
“The current findings indicating an advantage to women in terms of the attractiveness of occupations make clear that this is a fairly general situation,” Dr Blackburn says in his paper ‘Gender Inequality at Work in Industrial Countries’.
“There was not always this advantage to women; it is part of a significant change in industrialised societies in the last 50 years.
“The change results from changes in the occupational structure. Formerly women were more likely than men to be in manual occupations, but as manual work has declined, it is predominantly women who have moved into non-manual jobs, so that now it is men who are more likely than women to be manual workers.
“Initially, in the change from manual to non-manual work, women tended to be employed in low-level non-manual occupations, especially clerical work. More recently, they have contributed to the expansion of professional employment.”
He added: “The findings are very important, but not widely recognised until now. A quiet revolution in the workplace means that the widespread idea that women do the low status jobs is now wrong – in fact they are more likely to be found working in the sorts of occupations that both men and women think are higher up the social scale.”
He said his research did not find that women were paid better than men – largely because occupations defined as higher status were not necessarily better paid. For instance heavy, dirty or dangerous manual work, done predominantly by men, was better paid than some higher status non-manual jobs of women, he said.
Also it was partly because within each occupation men tended to be better paid than women, usually because they were more senior.
The effect Dr Blackburn found was less pronounced for the UK than in the other nine countries, but was still statistically significant.