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Gender and Stratification

The study of gender and stratification is comparatively recent, being developed from feminist scholarship. The traditional sociological view is that the oppression of women is adequately covered by class analysis. Feminist theory insists that the class structures, and the oppression of women within patriarchal systems, are separate but interacting social processes.

Feminists debated whether wives should be allocated to classes on the basis of their husband's occupation or the wife's occupation. Now scholars study women's position in society, and in the labor force, separately from class analysis. Empirical research has shown that the sex segregation of occupations, and the pay gap between men and women, cut across social classes in ways that vary from one society to another, and vary across time.

Occupational segregation and the pay gap develop and change independently within labor markets due to variations in female employment, anti-discrimination policies and other social policies including family-friendly policies that have been counter-productive in their effects. Similarly, women's position in the family is studied independently of their position in the class structure, and depends on their education as much as their earning power and occupational status.

The feminist assumption that dual-earner and dual-career families would become universal after equal opportunities policies took effect has been proven wrong, in majority of the countries. Instead, couples choose between three family models, corresponding to women's three lifestyle preferences:
A minority of work-centered women who adopt the male profile of continuous full-time employment and are financially self- supporting;

A minority of home-centered women who are dependent on their spouses after marriage; and A majority of adaptive women who are secondary earners within their households rather than careerists, and have varied employment patterns.

This heterogeneity of women's lifestyle preferences, and thus employment profiles, cuts across social classes, education levels, and income levels. This diversity of female lifestyle choices produces a polarization of female employment profiles over the lifecycle, and is a major cause of rising income inequality between households in modern societies as illustrated by income differences between dual-career childless couples and one-earner couples with several children to support.

Currently, female social stratification differs from male social stratification, because women have two avenues for achieving higher social status and class position through the labor market or the marriage market. Women actively use both, even today.

In developing societies the position of the women depends whether women have independent access to the labor market or have access primarily through male members of their family (father or spouse), or are expected to refrain from market activities and devote themselves exclusively to homemaking and childrearing activities. In agricultural societies, technology is also an important factor in women's social and economic position.

Crompton, R. & Mann, M. (eds.) (1986) Gender and Stratification. Polity Press, Cambridge.
Hakim, C. (2000) WorkÔÇôLifestyle Choices in the 21st Century: Preference Theory. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Hakim, C. (2004) Key Issues in Women's Work: Female Diversity and the Polarisation of Women's Employment. Glasshouse Press, London.