Occupational aspirations and the gender gap in wages

Silke Aisenbrey, Hannah Brückner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Focusing on the role of occupational segregation in maintaining gender stratification, this article analyses occupational aspirations and attainment among West Germans born between 1919 and 1971. Male and female life course patterns have strongly converged among younger cohorts, but men and women are still extremely segregated in the labour market, and earn unequal wages. Women are less likely than men to realize their occupational aspirations and their occupational choices are greatly constrained by a gendered system of vocational professional training. However, the allocation of women and men into different occupations is not the primary factor in the gender wage gap. The contribution of occupational gender segregation declined over time and was negligible for younger women. Increasingly across cohorts, the gender wage gap is driven by within-occupation stratification. We show that for the youngest cohort, gender differences in human capital, family obligations, and work life characteristics do not account for within-occupation gender inequality in the late 1990s. While young German women acquired the same, or better, human capital than men, the return to their skills in the labour market has fallen below that of their male contemporaries. We discuss the implications for the stability of gender segregation and policies aimed at alleviating gender inequality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)633-649
Number of pages17
JournalEuropean Sociological Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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