A woman in dark costume sits at a table with her back againt us, her collegues are looking at her
Photo: Aleksandr Davydov

More women are today working in the top end occupations, with high salary, long education and high prestige. But the wage gap in these segments has not decreased the last decades in Sweden.  

“It’s easy to think that de growing share of highly educated women in prestigious occupations would make the gender wage gap decrease over time. On the contrary we can now see that it is in the low and medium prestige professions, where women and men are still quite divided by occupation, that the gender wage gap has decreased” says Carlotta Magnusson, Associate Professor of sociology at the Swedish Institute for Social Research at Stockholm University.

Women as a group earns less

Together with Magnus Nermo, professor at the Department of Sociology, Charlotta Magnusson has investigated how the difference in wage between men and women has changed in professions with different prestige. Using the big Level of Living survey (“Levnadsnivåundersökningen”) that has been carried out seven times in Sweden since the between the 1960’s and 2010, the researchers has been able to measure the development. The occupations that has been classified as high prestige is for example doctors, lawyers and engineers, and it was the hourly wages that were measured.

The results show that the development for the gender wage gap in professions with high prestige differs from professions with lower prestige. In low and medium prestige occupations the gender wage gap has decreased considerably between the 1980’s and 2010, which is also the result for the average wages of the all jobs.

“But in occupations with high prestige women as a group still earns less than men who has equivalent jobs. The difference in wage between women and men in this group has been more or less the same during the whole period, between 1968 and 2010” says Charlotta Magnusson.

Wage gap not explained by level of education

The wage gap cannot be explained by women’s level of education, work life experience, or whether they are employed in public or private sector. The researchers have compared hourly wages and also considered possible part-time work, so the gap is not directly explained by women not working full time, even though long periods of part-time work can result in a lower wage.

forskaren Charlotta Magnusson i sitt arbetsrum på Stockholms univerirsitet
Charlotta Magnusson, Associate Professor of sociology at the Institute for Social Research. Photo: Daniel Rossetti/Stockholm Universitet

“One of the explanations that we have seen in previous studies is that women still have the main responsibility for family and children. Professions with high prestige are often more time-consuming and demands travelling, over-time work and to be available on inconvenient working hours. Then it’s hard to finish work at four o’clock to go home and take care of your children” says Charlotta Magnusson.

If this makes women voluntarily refrain from that kind of positions or if the employers opt out on them has not been studied. However, the researchers have seen in previous studies that even when women have more time-consuming positions they are not being rewarded with as high salaries as men.

The wage gap was at the time of the latest survey (2010) around 15 per cent for high prestige occupations, and around 10 per cent for medium and low prestige occupations. Also, the gap for occupations with high prestige has not changed more among younger individuals. Wage differences between women and men who were in the ages 25 - 40 during the 2000’s is more or less the same as the wage difference between men and women who were in the same age in the 1970’s.

"When we compare to the men we see the difference"

Since more women are now working in all occupational groups, also those with high wages, there are today in total more women who earns more.

” It’s when we compare them to the men we find that the differences are still there. We can see that there is now a bigger share of women in all occupational groups, all the way up to the top of the scale. But despite that, the gender wage gap among these occupations are not decreasing” says Charlotta Magnusson.

The reseachers underline that since the last survey in LNU-series was carried out in 2010, the situation might have changed somewhat.

” In newer figures from the Swedish National Mediation Office (Medlingsinstitutet) we can see that the average wage gap has decreased the last decade. It is possible that this is true also for the high prestige occupations. We have to await the next survey so be able to answer that question” says Charlotta Magnusson.

– Vi kan se i statistik från Medlingsinstitutet att den genomsnittliga löneskillnaden mellan män och kvinnor på arbetsmarknaden har minskat det senaste decenniet. Det är möjligt att detta även gäller bland högprestigeyrken. Vi får därför avvakta nästa Levnadsnivåundersökning som ska samlas in under 2020 för att kunna besvara den frågan, säger Charlotta Magnusson.


How the study was done

The study used data from the Level of living-survey (LNU) from the years 1968, 1974, 1981, 1991, 2000, 2010. The LNU-survey is national and has a representative selection of around 0,1 per cent of the Swedish population in the ages 18-74 (for the years 1968 and 1974 the lower age limit was 15 years). The selection for this study was persons between 18 and 65 years who had worked at least five hours per week. The wages were measures hourly.

How high prestige occupations are defined

Occupations that are highly valued in society and that many value and/or want to have. This is measured through a subjective estimation with data  from around 60 countries in the so called Standard International Occupational Prestige Scale (SIOPS). These occupations are often jobs that require a long education and give a high salary. Examples of high prestige occupations are doctors, lawyers, university professors and engineers.  

Read more about the research

Charlotta Magnusson, Magnus Nermo (2019), Forty Years of Gender Inequality Among Men and Women in High-Prestige Occupations—Does the Story Differ Among the Young?, kapitel i boken "Gender, Age and Inequality in the Professions: Exploring the Disordering, Disruptive and Chaotic Properties of Communication."


Charlotta Magnusson, Associate Professor of Sociology, charlotta.magnusson@sofi.su.se
Magnus Nermo, Professor of Sociology, magnus.nermo@sociology.su.se