gender study

UNL faculty members Ann Mari May, left, and Mary McGarvey at a glass display board showing formulas used in their study.

Women succeed more in high-salaried, high-education, male-dominated occupations in “blue” states than in “red” states, according to new research by a pair of University of Nebraska-Lincoln economists.

There are fewer women in such high-status careers in states with Republican voting records and higher concentrations of evangelical Christians than in states with Democratic voting records, UNL faculty members Ann Mari May and Mary McGarvey say in a paper published this week in an academic journal.

Such jobs include engineers, lawyers, financial advisers and clergy.

The research aimed to determine whether women were less represented in these higher-paying jobs in more conservative states. It didn’t purport to find the reasons for any such difference, leaving that to more research and interpretation.

“If women are not able to get these jobs in certain parts of the country, then what that means is we’re squandering our most important resources, which are human beings,” said May, a professor in the economics department.

A lack of women in higher-status jobs also contributes to the wage gap between men and women, in which men typically make more than women in the same jobs, May said.

Lincoln attorney Dan Welch, chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party, said in an email that the study’s methodology and interpretation are “suspect.”

Defining states as red or blue based on voting data from all 50 states in the 2000 presidential election “seems flawed,” he said, because public policies that could have affected people’s occupations in several of the states were set by legislatures and governors from the opposite political party.

For instance, he said: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and North Carolina voted for Republican George W. Bush but had Democratic governors and legislatures. New Jersey and Pennsylvania voted for Democrat Al Gore but had Republican governors and legislatures.

May, co-author of the paper, said she would expect similar results if the study had used other election years.

“The overall story is not going to have changed,” she said.

Jane Kleeb, chairwoman of the Nebraska Democratic Party, said she agreed with the study’s findings.

“It’s no surprise,” she said. “In blue states, there’s obviously more progressive and liberal ideas that permeate even into the workplace than in red states.”

UNL political scientist Kevin Smith, who has studied gender voting trends and red state-blue state issues, said the findings are “reasonable.”

“A lot of the red states, it’s not just that they’re conservative,” Smith said. “They’re traditional states where, for example, they have fewer females in state legislatures, and women tend to be lower on indexes of political power, social status and earnings,” according to other researchers.

The new study’s analysis seems sound, he said, although state-by-state political views seem to be arrayed along a continuum rather than sharply divided between conservative and liberal.

“There are states that are a little bit more a shade of purple than ruby red or a deep sky blue,” Smith said.

May said in an interview that the findings should be a wake-up call to policymakers about gender treatment in the workplace and in schools.

“If you live in a community that’s like that, maybe you spend more time with your daughter explaining these options, since they may not be told this in school or be aware of it,” May said of the disparity in women holding the high-status jobs, “and explain to young boys that girls can do these things as well.”

She said the reasons for the disparity in women holding the top-level jobs may include whether people in red states are, on average, less willing than people in blue states to accept changes underway in the roles women play in society, non-traditional marriages, delayed childbirth, homosexuality, abortion and other issues that apply to women.

Although more women are in the workplace than ever, May said, men and women still are highly segregated when it comes to their occupations.

The paper by May and McGarvey — titled “Gender, Occupational Segregation and the Cultural Divide: Are Red States Different than Blue States?” — is online in the Review of Regional Studies by the Southern Regional Science Association.

“People haven’t really asked this question before, and it’s a good question to ask,” said Myra Marx Ferree, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin who has studied gender and politics.

The study’s findings are “suggestive,” she said, meaning it will take more research to find out exactly what’s happening. Other studies have shown differences between red and blue states in divorce rates, fertility patterns and other family issues, she said.

Political preferences may lead to government policies that limit women’s career chances, Ferree said. For example, laws in one state may make it difficult to challenge job discrimination, while another state’s laws may strongly protect against gender discrimination.

The study categorized the states as “red” or “blue” by the 2000 presidential election results and used 2000 U.S. Census data for 56 occupations that are dominated by men and have high salaries and high education requirements.

Of those, 34 are in so-called STEM fields — related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics — such as engineers, actuaries, programmers and chemists. The 22 others are non-STEM professions, such as lawyers, dentists, financial advisers and clergy.

Research accepted by the journal in which the study was published is peer reviewed, as are most academic papers. That means at least two academics review manuscripts for double-blind review — in which neither the reader nor the author know each others’ identities.

May said she wanted to test the theory that women in red states are less successful in those occupations to bring the potential problem to light. She said the analysis controlled for other demographic and economic variables that might have influenced the results.

Among the findings, according to the study and an accompanying press release:

» In states with equal proportions of men and women with college degrees, the concentration of women in STEM occupations in red states was 19 percent lower than in blue states.

» In blue states, women were 48 percent less concentrated than men in non-STEM occupations. In red states, the figure was 58 percent. The concentration of women was lower regardless of earnings or education.

» The red-blue gap was the biggest in occupations with the highest share of college-educated people, with a concentration of women compared to men 17 percent lower in red states than blue states.

May and McGarvey studied occupations that required college degrees because advanced education requirements should reduce gender differences.

“Education is a great equalizer,” she said. “They pay the same tuition.”

The analysis also took into account the number of evangelical Christians in each state. The red states were home to more people in those religious groups.

The Rev. Don Pahl, lead pastor of the evangelical Crosspoint Bible Church of Omaha and Bennington, said it’s difficult to say how evangelical churches influence women’s careers because such churches’ views vary widely.

While some Bible verses discuss women staying home, others praise women who are “well-known in the marketplace,” Pahl said in an email after reading the UNL paper.

“I am impressed that this research takes into account so many factors such as numbers in the work force, red and blue states, indicating, I suppose, a more conservative vs. a more liberal mindset,” he said. “But a study such as this is usually unable to factor in the personal decision.”

Women choose careers based on own interests and circumstances, he said.

“Some churches strongly encourage young mothers to stay home,” Pahl said. “I encourage men and women, couples, to live in such a way that is consistent with their biblical values,” sometimes a “delicate dance” between family and careers outside the home. “We celebrate hard and fulfilling work, whether that be in the marketplace or in the home.”

May, an Omaha native, has a doctorate in economics from Colorado State University and has been at UNL since 1987, except for two years as a visiting professor at Middlebury College in Vermont. Her studies have been in gender and higher education; women and the economy; U.S. economic history; and macroeconomic stabilization policy.

McGarvey, an associate professor of economics, has a doctorate in economics from the University of Virginia and came to UNL in 1992, specializing in applied econometrics and research in school and maternal employment effects on children’s health, gender occupational segregation and differences in policy views of male and female economists.

For their study, the two developed a scale called the gender concentration quotient to measure whether more or fewer women are in occupations than expected.

The same factors that affect hiring in the occupations also affect wages, job mobility and representation on boards of directors, May said.

Cultural and social bias against women in certain occupations — “men are scientists and women are not” — may be stronger in red states, she said, resulting in fewer women being hired for those jobs and fewer women seeking those careers.

“It’s a long-term trend,” May said. “Blue states may be at a different stage in the transition than red states.”

What transition?

The research paper refers to a concept called the “second demographic transition,” coined by Belgian sociologist Ron Lesthaeghe in 1986 and popularized by James Davison Hunter’s 1991 book, “Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America.”

According to their analysis of demographics and society, Lesthaeghe and Hunter saw the first long-term demographic transition as society’s movement to the nuclear family of a married man and woman with children, as countries prospered and grew through about 1970.

Then a second transition began toward a multitude of living arrangements, disconnecting marriage and procreation — what May calls “coupling not related to marriage” — and resulting in lower birthrates, first in Europe and later in parts of the United States, plus a broad range of social changes especially affecting women’s place in society.

In his book, Hunter said norms for marriage, the family and women are part of a larger transition under way in American attitudes toward issues such as abortion, gun laws, global warming, immigration, separation of church and state, privacy, recreational drug use, homosexuality and censorship.

May said the roles of women are central to many of those issues. As a result, occupational segregation of women can indicate whether people in different states accept changes in those values.

Blue states tend to be on the East and West Coasts, while red states generally occupy the southern and central parts of the country.

May said it may be that the social transition is working its way across the country gradually, and that the study’s finding of occupational segregation illustrates the geographic progress of that shift.

Kleeb, who became state Democratic chair in December, said the study’s findings square with the difficulty she has persuading women to run for office in Nebraska, even if they are more qualified than men who want to run.

She said politics in Nebraska reflect the same gender disparity, although U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, both Republicans, hold important elected offices.

Of Nebraska’s 49 state senators, 13 are women. Men hold the elected statewide positions of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

“As women, we have to start taking more of a leap. There are attempts in our society to lift up the fact that girls can do anything a boy can do,” Kleeb said, mentioning Girls Inc. and some school programs.

Smith, the UNL political scientist, said the paper’s discussion about values agrees with earlier studies of the changing roles of women by region.

“Those traditional roles are a little more upended some places than others,” he said. “The whole notion of gender in San Francisco is a little different than it is in Atlanta, Georgia.”

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