Why is it that women so often move for their husbands’ jobs, but the reverse is not as frequently true?
It’s common to assume that this has everything to do with antiquated gender roles. However, a new study suggests it may not be just about the willingness to move; it’s also about the professional ability to move.
Research from Alan Benson at the University of Minnesota, published recently in the journal Demography (ungated version here), suggests that job choice explains why women are more likely to move for their spouses than vice versa.
Men are much more likely to choose jobs that are concentrated in certain geographical areas, while women choose jobs that are needed everywhere. It’s not totally clear why women do this (is it in anticipation of potentially needing to move for a future husband’s job, or something else?). But it probably does affect earning potential.
This table shows which professions are most geographically concentrated, and which are the most dispersed. The former are almost all dominated by men, the latter by women. Note that the occupations on the left-hand side are, on the whole, much higher paid than the ones on the right.
A lot of prior research on this subject controlled for education and earnings in trying to explain this phenomenon, but largely considered occupational choice to be random. These are some of the reasons to think this isn’t random (and that this non-randomness is bad news for women):
- “First, if men and women expect families to prioritise husbands’ careers in relocation decisions, this may in turn compel women to sort into flexible occupations, thereby reproducing occupational segregation…”
- “Second, the segregation of women into flexible occupations may be a byproduct of other occupational characteristics. For normative or preferential reasons, women may segregate into human service jobs (such as health, education, or administrative support) that can be performed anywhere…”
- “Third, organizational and labour market processes may also disadvantage women and segregate them into support occupations offering few opportunities for career advancement and few rewards for calculated relocations”
This segregation, Benson finds, is particularly pronounced among people with college degrees.
There are a lot of things this could mean. One of those is that women happen to like more flexible jobs. Another is that women feel a lot of pressure, from a young age, to sort themselves into flexible jobs.
At the end of the day, this goes back to a common conclusion from research concerning gender and careers: women often trade a lot of earning potential for flexibility, for better or for worse.
(via Dina ElBoghdady)
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