kitchen table math, the sequel: tipping point

Saturday, February 26, 2011

tipping point

One pervasive feature of economic life is that men and women do different jobs, and the jobs that women do are less well rewarded, whether it be an agricultural economy where men do the ploughing and women do the weeding or a modern post-industrial economy where women teach elementary school and men work in construction. *

But what is a male job and what is a female job varies in time and space. When I was teaching in Cuba once I casually remarked that, in Canada, most economics professors are male. My students were surprised because, in Cuba, most economics professors are female. A long discussion in Spanish followed, and after some time, the class reached a consensus. The reason for the difference? "In Canada, people listen to economics professors."

Worthwhile Canadian Initiative
Apparently, there is a gender tipping point in occupations:
Not infrequently, jobs "tip", or change from being male dominated to female dominated -- bank tellers, bakers, court reporters, teachers, secretaries. (Female to male shifts are less usual, but do happen, for example, the shift from midwives to obstetricians). In a fascinating paper, Jessica Pan estimates that, for US white collar jobs, the tipping point is somewhere between 30 and 60 percent female. Once that threshold is crossed, men stop entering the profession. At 34% female, the job of "university professor" is ripe for tipping.

Conventional wisdom has it that, when jobs become feminized, wages fall. Typically the reasons suggested for both feminization and falling wages are deskilling, loss of control over important working conditions by members of the occupation, and reduced advancement opportunities. (For a summary that critiques this conventional wisdom, see this Joyce Jacobsen article). (pdf file)

* Not a good example in my neck of the woods, where total compensation for elementary school teachers averages $100K -- and this without taking into consideration the value of pensions and lifetime health care benefits.


Anonymous said...

"At 34% female, the job of 'university professor' is ripe for tipping."

I would be inclined to separate out the different majors (or at least general areas) here. I don't see how lots of female English professors, for example, would cause men to stop becoming physics professors.

But 34% across the board suggests that there are some fields that have much more than 34% (in science, I'm guessing biology...). It would be interesting to see how this plays out in the highest percentage fields.

-Mark Roulo

cranberry said...

Year 1: 100% male professors

Year 10: 66% male, 34% female professors.

If the pool of men qualified to become professors hasn't decreased, and the number of teaching spots haven't increased, the increase in female professors represents an increase in the number of human beings competing for a limited number of spots.

Greater supply + constant demand = lower price

No need to speak of tipping points--increasing supply of a good by 30% should lead to lower prices.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm sure this concept is behind college worries that once they hit the 60/40 ratio for female to male students, they're in trouble.

I'll scare up that link.

(I don't have an opinion on this, btw. I think it's interesting & plausible, but that's about as far as I can take it.)

Anonymous said...

I've noticed more and more women as veterinarians lately. Didn't it used to be a pretty exclusive male career? Again, I don't have any problem with it, but the males seem to be disappearing there, too.


momof4 said...

I think that there is reason to be concerned about the male/female ratios in some fields because men and women tend to make different choices within those fields. I understand that more women than men have been entering law school for years but men disporportionately choose to be prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers. Women have more recently outnumbered men in med schools but disproportionately choose primary care (family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics and OB) while cardiology, gastroenterology and all of the surgical specialties tend to have few women.

About 5 years ago, a local surgeon attended a conference which reported that over half of the surgeons in that specialty were over age 55 and that retirements were outpacing new surgeons finishing their training. On his return, surgeons in other specialties said the same was true in their areas. I've read that the same issue holds for vets; women tend to choose small animal practices and there is concern within the field about sufficient numbers of large animal vets to cover farms, ranches, meat inspections etc.

In all three areas, women are more likely to choose less demanding specialties, which are likely to be lower paid but have more family-friendly hours. A recent AMA document reported that women physicians, on average, work 18% fewer hours than do men. All of the above does have implications for access to services in those fields. I'm not familiar with the ins and outs of STEM fields, but I get the impression that some of the same issues are at work; it's not just the bodies but the choices those bodies make and how that affects the specific field.

momof4 said...

I should have added that the med school admission requirements have changed over the last 40 years and those requirements have favored women. When I was in college, pre-med was seriously science-heavy; no English or history majors need apply. The push to admit more women is decades old.

ChemProf said...

And the changes aren't stopping. There are serious discussions about reducing the organic requirements and adding biochem (but what kind of biochem can you teach to students without a year of organic?) as well as reducing the physics requirements. The MCAT is being modified as we speak!

While they talk about "competencies" rather than a checklist, given that 42000 students apply to med school every year, I expect it will wind up being a list of courses when they are done with it.

Catherine Johnson said...

momof4 -


That's very worrisome.

I'm going to try not to need surgery.

Or own any large animals.