Gender Segregation in the Swedish Labour Market Essay

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Gender Segregation in the Swedish Labour Market


Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries are widely known for their strong commitment to equality between men and women. During the development of the welfare state the government supported women’s participation in the labor market. This resulted in a high rate of female employment in Sweden today. Regarding this, it is striking that the Swedish labor market has one of the highest degrees of gender segregation in the world and considerable gender inequalities. The roots for this segregation can be seen in the growing welfare state with women starting to work overall in the public and service sector in areas like health care and child-care while men still dominated in the private sector. Policies for women’s integration and several other government measures to desegregate the labor market were implemented and performed in the last years. However, today the gender segregation in Sweden is still at a higher level than in the majority of the other countries in Europe. This paper offers an analysis of the Swedish labor market regarding gender with an economical perspective.

Occupational Gender Segregation

Gender Segregation is one of the most discussed topics in Europe especially in Sweden. The segregation that will be analyzed in this paper can be seen as a result of multidimensional process which is manifested in differences in gender patterns of representation within occupations as well as within different employment contract groups and employment status ( , p. 2). “Gender segregation means that women and men to a certain extent work in different occupations or in different sectors or under different contractual terms and conditions” (ibid p. 2). The gender-based occupational segregation is both the “tendency for men and women to be employed in different occupations”, which is the horizontal segregation and the tendency to be employed in “different positions within the same occupation or occupational group”, the vertical segregation (, p. 191).

To measure segregation, the Index of Dissimilarity (ID) is most widely used in the research literature and also in this paper. Its value ranges from 0, which is “no segregation with equal percent of women and men in each and every occupation” to 1, which is “complete segregation with female workers in occupations where there are no male workers” (idib., p. 196). It is important to include a discussion of division of work in the households when looking at gender segregation. In Scandinavian countries a two-bread-winner model is the norm with subcontracted work in the households. At the same time, the former typical women’s household work like caring for children, elderly and disabled people was and is more and more taken over by the public sector. This expanding public sector leads to new employments for women and has an impact on the gender segregation which is also worth to be examined ( , p. 2).

Facts and figures

Sweden has one of the highest female employment rates and a high female education level. At the same time, data indicate that Sweden’s gender segregation is decreasing in the labour market, but still at a high level (, p. 4). While the gender segregation for the European Union as a whole is still relatively high, the Mediterranean and eastern countries have a rather low segregation in comparison to the high-segregated Nordic countries (, p. 7). A closer look on the Swedish labour market reveals that, especially in the private sector, women are under-presented in jobs at a higher level and they usually have lower positions.

Instead a great number of females is employed in the public sector and working part time. Moreover, women still perform two third of all their unpaid work at home (Gender equality and occupational segregation in Nordic labour markets, p. 190). In 1992 one half of all employed female employment worked in the public sector. Whereas, men employment was represented with one-quarter. In general, the labour force participation of women in Sweden is quiet strong. Already in 1990, female participation was at a level of 49,5% in comparison to lower levels in North America (45%) and to other European Countries (39% Gender equality and occupational segregation in Nordic labour markets, p. 194f.).

Research proves that Sweden has a relatively high level of occupational segregation by sex. Although the ID decreased from 0,731 in 1970 to 0,641 in 1990, it is still higher than in other countries. The U.S.A. had an ID of 0,55 in 1990 and France 0,60. Furthermore the average of 14 non-Nordic OECD countries was 0,55 (idib, p. 197ff.)

A later study of 15 EU members in 2000 shows the same tendency. It ranked Sweden on the second place after Finland according to the ID segregation index (, p. 32)

Further research indicates a proportion of females in female-dominated occupations, which is relatively and absolutely high in comparison to the rest of the European countries except for Norway and Finland, which show a similar labour market structure as Sweden. While the percentage of female employments in occupations with more than 70% females decreased slightly from 72,9% to 69,2% from 1970 to 1970, the proportion of females employed in occupations with more than 90% female dominance even increased in these years from 37,5% to 42,2%. This female dominance is not typical for the rest of Europe. In 1990 the other 14 OECD countries had a percentage of 22% in the occupations with more than 80% females. This is significantly lower than the 58,2% in Sweden (idib, p. 199ff.)

The examination of male employment in male-dominant occupations shows similar numbers. This result is, however, not atypical as Sweden is accompanied by the other OECD countries concerning this male dominance (idib, p. 202f.).

More recent findings indicate that the female dominance in the public sector is still high. In 2000 the proportion of women’s employment in Sweden’s public sector was 62,1% in comparison to the EU average of 42,7% (, p. 28)

“Female” and “male” occupations

Due to the gender segregation some jobs are female dominated and others are known as typically male. The table shows the 10 most “feminized” occupations in Sweden (idib, p. 204). The occupations are associated with either caring, manual dexterity or are related to the typical household-work. On the first place rank “Dental assistants and other health workers”; in the second place come “Telephone switch board operators, etc.” and third are “House keeper in private service, childcare in families and at home”.

Still male dominant are technical occupations like chemists and physicists in comparison to female laboratory assistants. Furthermore, typically female occupations can be found in the nursing and teaching area. However, the number of females in teaching decrease according to the rising level of teaching: 96% of pre-primary teachers are women in Nordic countries, but only 30% are female university teachers. Moreover, in the Nordic countries the same as in industrialized countries in general, women are over-represented in the service area (idib., p. 206ff).

Vertical Segregation and wage inequalities

Women in Sweden are concentrated in lower-paid and lower-status occupations. For instance only 40% of the shop managers are female, whereas 75% of the shop personnel are women (idib., p. 209). Furthermore, in 2000 women in higher level jobs as share of all women in employment was only 20,8% (, p. 27). Gender gap in earnings can be seen as a consequence of segregation. However, in Sweden the gap is lower than in other countries. While Sweden created many occupations in the public sector, the wage differences were compressed due to a huge influence of union federations and employer associations.

Also laws have been established to secure equal pay for equal work. For this reason, the women forced into particular jobs do not earn much lower wages than men and the high level of gender segregation goes along with a relatively low wage gap (,+sweden&source=bl&ots=WME1izrf2g&sig=qxVvzUAEWzaeMrf4qVXbQatotHQ&hl=de&ei=9KL7TKP4HM_sOcaEndUK&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CGAQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=gender%20segregation%2C%20sweden&f=false, p. 20f.). In fact the gap between earnings is significantly smaller in comparison to other countries. In general women’s wages are relatively high, but still lower than men’s. This is also due to many women working in the public sector where the wages are lower than in the private sector.

Another analysis by the European Comission in 2002 shows the women’s wages as a percentage of men’s. In typical male occupations like engine man, skilled or garden worker women earn only 95% to 98% of men’s wage. However, inequalities also exist the other way round. In typical female occupations like nurses or child minder men earn less than women. Women earn up to 105% of men’s wage. It can be stated that differences and inequalities exist, but concerning the wages they are not significant (, p. 80).

Impact of increasing female employment on gender segregation

The development of the last centuries in the European Union (15 members) does not show a trade-off between increasing segregation and increasing female employment. However, with focus on the short and medium run or with cross country comparison the opposite was found: In particular in the 1990s, there is evidence of a positive correlation between high female employment rates and gender segregation in the labour market on a more or less temporary basis.

These study results were also due to the nordic countries including Sweden with their high degree of segregation and high-employment. One reason for this is the common Swedish family which has two breadwinners. With both parents working it is usually the woman who has to work in a “family friendly occupation” with flexible schedules. For this reason, the positive effect of rising women’s employment in order to drive desegregation may only exist in the long term. (, p. 3,, p. 35ff.).

Government measures

Concluding remarks and preview

Segregation is not only harmful and discriminating for the people affected by it, but it is also undesirable in high developed and progressive societies. Also the efficiency of the labor market as a whole can be affected negatively. It is highly reasonable that Sweden and the EU take measures to improve equality in the labor market. However, segregation also has a positive side. Some argue that it protects women’s employment from male competition and upholds demand for female labor. The public sector also offer more secure employment especially between 1992 and 1994. This advantage for women is now diminished due to reorganization of the public sector. (Gender equality and occupational segregation in Nordic labour markets Von Helinä Melkas,Richard Anker,International Labour Office, p. 191).

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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 2 December 2016

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