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. *Apparently, there is a gender tipping point in occupations:
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
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.