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Gender essentialism makes segregation persistent

Socially constructed beliefs about biological gender differences, i.e. gender essentialism, can to a large extent explain the remaining gender segregation and inequality. That’s one of the conclusions of a research project that has studied essentialism and segregation in 25 countries.

Researchers in this project are Karin Halldén, doctor of sociology at Stockholm University, David Grusky, Stanford University, Asaf Levanon, University of Haifa and Reinhard Pollack, WZB Berlin.

Essentialism refers to socially constructed conceptions that biological differences between the sexes make men and women suited for different tasks and occupations. For example the view that the biological constitution of men makes them more suited to act authoritatively, and conversely women more suited for caring and nurture. In the research project “Gender Essentialism in cross-national perspective”, which was presented at a research seminar at The Institute for Futures Studies on march 7, the question is raised whether essentialist views can explain why the gender-revolution seems to have stalled off since the 1980’s. And according to the study, segregation and gender inequality have a large essentialist component in all of the studied countries. The wage gap, for example, can to a higher extent be explained by essentialist views that make women and men choose (and get) different jobs, rather than women earning less than men for the same job.

Because segregation has such a large essentialist component, egalitarian policies that target vertical segregation, such as discrimination, is not effective on the overall level of segregation.

The researchers claim that the negative effect of essentialism on the level of segregation has previously been underestimated. The reason being that previous research mainly has focused on a form of essentialism that gives women advantages. For example the essentialist view that low wage manual labor is the domain of men.