Economists find gender gap follows red-blue border lines

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Posted July 5, 2017 | View original publication

A new study by University of Nebraska-Lincoln economists shows women in blue states are more likely to break the glass ceiling to move into high-salary, high-education jobs in male-dominated fields.

“The study reveals there are indeed significant differences in labor market outcomes for women that can’t be explained by other factors,” said co-author Ann Mari May, professor of economics at Nebraska. “Women fare better in terms of representation in top jobs in blue states than in red states.”

In recent years, politicians and social scientists have increasingly described an American cultural divide epitomized by “red” states where Republicans have typically won presidential elections and “blue” states where Democrats usually win. May and co-author Mary McGarvey investigated whether the political divide also extends into the labor market and economy.

Though there are more men than women in top jobs in all states, the economists found that the gender employment gap in these top jobs is more extreme in red states. The gender employment gap increases in occupations with the most highly educated workers.

Using U.S. Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, May and McGarvey examined women’s representation in 56 male-dominated, high-education occupations. The economists examine science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, jobs as well as non-STEM jobs.

Their study, recently published in The Review of Regional Studies, analyzed male-dominated jobs ranging from chief executive officers, legislators and financial analysts to computer scientists, doctors and engineers. Median earnings for each occupation varied from $40,000 to nearly $125,000.

The gender employment gap is more pronounced in red states than in blue states. In red states, the concentration of women in top jobs is 43 percent of the share of men in the jobs, while in blue states, it is 47 percent. Women’s share of top non-STEM jobs in red states is 42 percent of men’s share and 52 percent of men’s share in blue states. They found the disparities between red and blue states persisted even after controlling for other demographic and economic factors, such as state employment rates, median age, immigration and mobility patterns and population density.

The disparity raises questions about the United States’ ability to compete in a global market and calls for more research about the challenges facing women in the labor market, the researchers concluded.

“Despite significant increases in women’s overall participation in the labor market, men and women continue to be highly segregated in their employment,” May said. “Occupational segregation by gender contributes to the wage gap for women, limiting women’s financial security and independence, their ability to provide for their families and their ability to save for old age.”


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