Choosing a Measure of Occupational Standing: How Useful are Composite Measures in Analyses of Gender Inequality in Occupational Attainment?

Warren, John, Jennifer T. Sheridan, and Robert Hauser
Working paper no. 1996-10


We ask whether and how indexes or scales of occupational socioeconomic standing affect inferences about gender differences in occupational success and occupational attainment processes. To address these questions, we report parallel analyses of the role of gender in the process of occupational attainment 15 times, each time using a different measure of occupational standing. We analyze data from the 1994 General Social Survey (GSS) and the 1986-1988 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). We find that global or composite indexes of occupational socioeconomic standing are too heterogeneous to be useful in studies of occupational stratification, especially studies of gender differences. First, women often have higher levels of education than men in the same occupation, while men usually have higher earnings than women in the same occupation. Thus, when a global index is used, the relative standing of men’s and women’s occupations is an arbitrary function of the weights given to occupational education and occupational earnings. Second, occupational earnings do not appear to be the basis of occupational persistence, either within or across generations. We conclude that investigators should not use standard, composite measures of occupational socioeconomic standing when comparing the occupations of men and women. It is preferable to index occupations separately by each of their socioeconomic characteristics, or to use other, direct, measures of occupational characteristics.