Contrary to a stereotype perpetuated by many civilian employers and military officers, young women who take jobs traditionally held by men don't have turnover rates higher than their male co-workers, a Rand Corp. study set for release next week concludes.
The observation specifically contradicts an assumption that the report says is often made by employers: that women will leave the work force prematurely--to be married or bear children--and waste costly training for skilled positions.
The stereotype, women's groups have long complained, unfairly precludes women from gaining a foothold in many jobs--particularly in blue-collar fields--long dominated by men.
And in a finding that has surprised some nationally prominent experts on women in the work force, the Rand team also notes that girls aged 14 to 17 who have been reared in single-parent households headed by women are much more likely to settle into traditionally male jobs than girls who grew up in two-parent homes.
That is most likely, the Rand researchers say, because the shock value of seeing their mothers struggle to cope economically after divorce or the death of a spouse persuades teen-age girls that they must seek the monetary security of work in male fields, where financial rewards are greatest. The finding appears to fit Anglo and Latino women, but not blacks--perhaps because female-headed households have long been an established fixture of black society.
Nonetheless, the finding about girls reared in female-headed households flies in the face of time-honored assumptions that girls reared in two-parent homes--the traditional American ideal--are more likely to develop the ambition and self-confidence required to establish themselves in traditionally men-only fields.
Moreover, in a study that focused more on blue-collar occupations than the professions--one of the first of its type to concentrate on this component of the female labor force--the Rand team observed that the brightest, most intelligent 14-year-old girls are the ones most likely to gravitate eventually to male-dominated lines of work. Based on a battery of intelligence tests, the researchers concluded that less bright girls will more likely be attracted to homemaking and those occupations with which women are traditionally associated.
The report--scheduled for official release Monday--is one of the first results of a far-ranging research program financed by the Ford Foundation and based primarily on data gathered for the U.S. Department of Labor in which the career choices, job performance and backgrounds of nearly 13,000 women who were 14 to 19 when the study began in 1979 are being followed for several years.
The analysis was done by Rand researchers Linda J. Waite and Sue E. Berryman, both sociologists. The analysis included elaborate statistical controls to avoid unforeseen biasing of the results.
The survey data gathered in the study is among the best bodies of raw information ever assembled in the field, according to Joan Huber, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Ohio State University. Huber reviewed some of the Rand findings last year.
Specifically, the Rand team found that:
--For women working in primarily blue-collar jobs traditionally held by men, there is virtually no difference in turnover rates as compared with male employees. "This finding has major implications for the gender desegregation model," Waite and Berryman concluded. "For women to penetrate such industries in any significant way, they have to be pervasively employed in traditionally male occupations. Our results do not support the exclusion of women . . . on grounds of turnover rates greater than those . . . for women in traditionally female occupations."
--If a girl is in a female-headed household at age 14, the likelihood that she will pick a job traditionally held by men is increased by 8%. Moreover, girls with higher intelligence are more likely to pick male-only jobs because "ability is rewarded in labor markets, but not necessarily in marriage markets." The team concluded that "living in an intact, versus a female-headed, household should affect what lessons daughters learn from their mothers' lives. Daughters in female-headed households will see their mothers either as negative models or as male models. (In either case) this should increase the chances that they will choose traditionally male occupations."
--Girls whose mothers work in blue-collar fields likewise have an 8% greater chance of selecting employment in traditionally male-only jobs. Yet a corresponding analysis of young men working in traditionally female positions concluded that civilian men in women-only jobs show a lower turnover rate than women in the same fields.