Death by HR: Pink Collar Ghettos, Publishing and HR

Women Dominate HR -

Women Dominate HR –

This is a followup to Death by HR: Who Staffs HR Departments? Mostly Women… motivated by Virgina Postrel’s query asking when publishing became a female-dominated field.

In Sisters of Perpetual Grievance: Gender Pay Gap we described how the “women make only 77 cents on the dollar” aggregate statistic is due to women’s choices of field, type of work, and desire to take time off for raising children. One of the counter-arguments is that female-dominated fields are paid less because of some sort of systemic discrimination. The Patriarchy has decided to pay less in those fields because they are dominated by women…!

Aside from the impracticality of such a conspiracy — implying the free market in labor somehow fails, forcing workers in those fields to accept lower pay instead of moving on to more lucrative opportunities — there’s some truth hiding in the claim. Fields dominated by women do tend to pay less. And there are a few examples where fields once male-oriented or at least balanced became female-dominated, and the average pay level dropped. Cause and effect? Or did the declining pay and improving security of these jobs lead them to become relatively more attractive to women looking for flexibility and more social workplaces?

Some examples of the phenomenon: 1) Public elementary school teaching, 2) Non-tenured higher education teaching, 3) Medical administrators, 4) HR administrators and staff (as we have seen).

The female dominance of elementary school teaching in the US was complete by 1900. Women were paid much less than men for the same teaching jobs — a result of real discrimination, and the sense that women would leave to marry and raise a family so their commitment was temporary. As a result, employing mostly young women as teachers became a cost-saving mechanism, and males left the field as salaries dropped and better opportunities with higher status and possibilities for advancement became available:

The drive for universal education increased the demand for teachers and the associated costs of instruction, giving an advantage to schools that hired female teachers. Female teachers were paid about half as much as their male counterparts in standardized schools (Grumet, p. 39). In fact, some scholars attest that “feminization occurred because school districts were unwilling or unable to pay the rising costs of retaining male teachers as school terms became longer and teaching became less attractive to men.” The wage gap between the genders was smaller in rural schools, possibly because there were fewer qualified candidates to fill teaching positions. Rural and southern areas tended to have more informal teaching with less discrepancy between the salaries of male and female teachers, and had mostly male teachers or an equal balance of men and women (Strober and Lanford). In the 1800s, male teachers tended to remain in their positions longer than female teachers, which may explain some of the wage gap. Women often used teaching as a way to earn an income between their own adolescence and motherhood. Teaching began as a job that was expected to cover living expenses for a young, single person or to supplement other sources of income. As teaching became a women’s career, the salary remained low even though a good number of female teachers never married and continued to teach.[1]

The era of young woman teaching for a few years before marrying and leaving the job market ended when mothers generally began to work outside the home. For some period during that transition, female teachers were expected to leave teaching when they married even when they wanted to continue, which led some to hide their marital status. Primary-school teachers were never of high status, but their status dropped further when men almost entirely abandoned public school teaching (many male teachers continued to teach at private schools, where their autonomy and status was greater.)

By 1850, the feminization of teaching had taken hold, especially in urban areas. Feminization was not a preference of schools at first. “School committees often searched in vain for men teachers before finally hiring women…. One major concern was discipline,” but separating classes by age in larger urban schools made discipline easier. The cost savings of female teachers may have been a result of feminization, rather than its cause. It was difficult for schools to find enough male teachers to fill all positions. “Teaching paid poorly compared with other jobs that men could get in urban areas, and the demands of teaching in big-city school systems–with eight months or more of school each year–precluded men teaching as a part-time job. Simultaneously, the nineteenth-century ideology of ‘domestic feminism’ limited the range of occupations to which young middle-class women could aspire.” There was a dearth of willing men and a plethora of educated, young white women qualified to teach for low salaries….

Teaching became formalized, and the percentage of women increased from 1850 to 1900. Schooling in the more urban North was more formalized, with more female teachers and sharp pay differences between men and women. When schooling became formalized, female teachers were seen as very desirable because they were seen as cheap, as better teachers of young children, and as more willing to conform to the bureaucratization of schooling. Male principals were employed to deal with disciplinary problems that their female teachers were unable to handle….

The feminized state of teaching has been both a boon and a burden to the women who teach. Female teachers historically postponed or hid marriages to maintain their careers. It was not until the mid-1900s that married women were allowed to continue teaching, but when they did, it was a career that integrated relatively well with childrearing. The teaching schedule has excellent “mommy hours,” with afternoons and evenings free, plus summer and winter vacations that correspond with children’s vacations. Since there is less of a hierarchy among teachers, it is easier to take time off and then re-enter the workforce than it is with other careers. Unfortunately, the salary and prestige of teaching are very low, and the mother-friendly benefits of teaching may contribute to maintaining it as a low-prestige career. The teaching hours and part-year schedule are well suited to women with children, making the profession fit easily into traditional women’s lives, but this has contributed to the feminization of the profession, leading to lower salaries and prestige. Teaching also has a relatively low retention rate compared to other occupations, especially for women. “Those who defected were mainly wealthier, smarter, and more often married than those who continued to teach[2].

The bureaucratization of a profession — with limited autonomy but greater security and reduced and more flexible hours, plus the ease of taking time off and moving between positions allowed by certification requirements and uncompetitive salaries — encourages female dominance. Highly-competitive, high-paying, performance-oriented occupations remained more difficult both to enter and succeed in, so the path of least resistance for a woman wanting a family-friendly career remained entry to one of the regulated fields where cooperative skills and consensus were more important than measurable productivity, and the pay reflected that.

Publishing is another field where women have come to dominate an industry — as in teaching, by the 1960s “There was a dearth of willing men and a plethora of educated, young white women qualified to [do editorial work] for low salaries.” Publishing had always employed large numbers of women in clerical and lower-level positions though men dominated editorial, managerial, and sales jobs. This began to change rapidly in the 1960s, and by the 1990s publishing was dominated by women, until today every part of the industry is female-dominated, from agents to editors to even authors. It’s often noted that the reading of books also became a primarily female-associated activity during that period, with women buying and reading far more books than men to the point where female-favored genres like romance outsell all other fiction.

Job Queues, Gender Queues: Explaining Women’s Inroads Into Male Occupations by Barbara F. Reskin and Patricia A. Roos has a detailed history of the rapid evolution of publishing from a male-dominated to a female-dominated industry, tracing it to factors including the increasing size and commercialization of the consolidating publishing companies and the historically low pay in the industry which discouraged men from entry while allowing upper-class educated white women to take it over from below:

Caplette observed that “the gradual increase of women editors in the last decade [the 1970s] has, within the last few years, become an upsurge—nearly half of trade and mass-market paperback editors are now women.” Confirming her impressions are those of more than forty industry informants who agreed that the 1970s brought dramatic progress for women in editing and other publishing jobs.

Although women advanced in many occupations in the 1970s, their gains in editing outstripped those in most other occupations…. I found that changes in the publishing industry and the editorial role set the stage for women’s gains by altering both the supply of male would-be editors and the demand for women….

For most of this century, publishing’s glamour and its image as a “gentlemen’s profession’ were sufficient to attract more than enough qualified recruits. Then, although industrial expansion heightened the demand for editorial workers, the concomitants of that growth reduced the industry’s attractive­ness to its traditional workforce: talented young men from high socioeconomic backgrounds.

Dwindling attraction for men. Publishing’s primary draw for such men had been entree into the world of culture without the taint of commerce. But commerce is exactly what outside ownership meant. At the same time, as we have seen, editorial work lost many of the features that had compen­sated nonwealthy workers for low wages. To make matters worse, commerce was supplanting culture without conferring the usual economic incentives of commercial careers. Although editorial wages had always been low, there were other compensations. One editor said, “I consider the right to publish books which don’t make money a part of my salary.” Just as some editors lost that right, wages may have actually declined. In 1982, entry-level pay for editorial assistants was as low as an $9,000 a year, and several people I interviewed noted that it is increasingly difficult, perhaps impossible, to survive—much less support a family—in Manhattan on editorial wages. An industry expert said, only partly in jest: “Only college graduates with rich parents willing to subsidize them can afford to work in editorial jobs any more.” In the face of society’s growing emphasis on a fashionable life-style and the increasing tendency to use income as “the measure of a man,” pub­lishing’s low wages further deterred men from pursuing editorial jobs. Better-paying media jobs (technical writing for high-tech companies, corporate public relations, film) and graduate school lured away talented men interested in communications.

With declining opportunities for mobility and challenges to the traditional promotion practices that had given men a fast track to the top, little remained to draw men to editorial work. A woman editor…in 1978 remarked, “The average man thinks that he has a God-given right to start in as an editor.” To the extent that this was true, entry-level iobs as editorial assistants (often a euphemism for secretary when these were women’s jobs) attracted few men, and the industry increasingly relied on women as editorial assistants.

Increasing supply of women. The gentility that had rendered publish­ing jobs appropriate for upper-status men did so too for “respectable” women whom traditional values encouraged to pursue cultural and aesthetic pursuits. As a long-time assistant at Harper & Brothers said, “Young women getting out of college were so anxious to get a job in something they could be proud of that they would go into publishing and work for practically nothing.” Gender-role socialization further enhanced women’s qualifications for publishing by schooling them in verbal and com­munications skills that equipped them with the facility and inclination to work with words and predisposed them toward the interpersonal work that editing often involved. One female holder of a master’s degree said of her secretarial job in the mid-1950s, “I thought it was an honor to read books and write… flap copy.” Working in an intellectual and cul­tural industry situated in one of the metropolitan publishing “capitals” offered an added incentive to women graduating from prestigious eastern colleges, particularly before the 1970s, when few alternatives presented themselves to career-minded women.

The massive influx of women into the labor force during the 1970s expanded the pool of women available for editorial jobs, and the women’s liberation movement encouraged women to consider occupations customarily reserved for men. Publishing attracted women also because it reputedly pre­sented fewer obstacles than many other industries. Moreover, male occupations in predominantly female industries—particularly growing industries­—tend to be more hospitable and hence more attractive to women. Thus, although women knew they faced discrimination in publishing, they probably realized that other commercial fields were worse. Publishing’s low wages were less likely to deter women than men because their socialization had not encouraged them to maximize income. Because women lacked access to many better-paying jobs, they did not have to forgo more lucrative opportunities for jobs as assistants or editors, and their limited alternatives presumably also explained their willingness to accept the changes that were making editorial work less desirable to men. As a result, the supply of female applicants remained unabated or grew, while that of males declined. Moreover, several interviewees contended that because publishing could no longer attract the most qualified men, female applicants often had better credentials than the males who did apply. If publishers chose the best applicant {as the new emphasis on profits dictated), it would probably be a woman….

In other words, women became attractive to publishers because of their literary and interpersonal skills, their presumed ability to read for a largely female readership, and their expertise in growing segments of the industry—and because they would work cheap. These factors, combined with their avail­ability as a surplus labor pool that could be readily drawn into the workforce, made women an acceptable solution to publishing’s economic fluctuations[3].

As publishing grew to be dominated by upper-class white women, it also came to be dominated by progressive feminists — of both sexes. Not all women in publishing are third-wave feminists, but many are, and like the Ivy League males they replaced, they view their power to get politically-progressive but uncommercial books published as a partial compensation for their low-paid and otherwise low-autonomy jobs. The industry relies on a cheap labor pool of new graduates hoping for an entry into more stable, higher-paying tenured editorial jobs, much as academia now relies on low-paid, abused adjunct teachers. The last of the older generation of editors and managers is leaving now, which leaves the legacy publishing industry with few editorial workers who understand more typical American families and blue-collar or male values. Those small and contrarian publishers who put out books of more interest to mainstream readers and men, like the Hollywood producers that made a bundle on the movie American Sniper — which respectfully told the morally-complex story of a Texas-based sniper in Iraq and the aftermath of his service — have discovered that big publishing’s neglect of this large audience makes it much more profitable to serve it.

Jason Pinter, bestselling thriller writer, discovered this downside when, working as an editor, he could get no support for a male-attracting book:

In an essay…, Pinter describes how (during his days in publishing) he attempted to acquire a book by professional wrestler Chris Jericho. His efforts almost failed for lack of men in the acquisitions meeting, he says–if one colleague’s 15-year-old nephew hadn’t been a wrestling fan, the book wouldn’t have made it through. It was “the fault of a system in which in a room of 15-20 people, not one of them knew what I was talking about…”

The same type of less-competitive, bureaucracy-tolerant, socially-oriented person has gone into HR as a field, studying sociology, psychology, and diversity, while employing personal relationships to make their way up in a field where results are very hard to quantify. The lower salaries in HR keep more effective thought-leaders from entering, yet companies continue to increase HR staff without realizing that they are bringing in people who don’t highly value excellence or competitive success. And the result will be emphasis on diversity and harmony over long-term growth and profit. Companies that carefully screen their HR staff and keep the focus on necessary business activity will have a competitive advantage and avoid the long-term decline a politicized HR department will cause.

[1] “The Feminization of Teaching in America,” By Elizabeth Boyle, MIT Progam in Women’s and Gender Studies – Kampf Prize, 2004.
[2] “The Feminization of Teaching in America,” By Elizabeth Boyle, MIT Progam in Women’s and Gender Studies – Kampf Prize, 2004.
[3] Job Queues, Gender Queues: Explaining Women’s Inroads Into Male Occupations by Barbara F. Reskin and Patricia A. Roos, Temple University Press, March 3, 2009.


Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


More reading on other topics:

Death by HR: Who Staffs HR Departments? Mostly Women…
Death by HR: The Great Enrichment to the Great Slackening
Death by HR: Good-Enough Cogs vs Best Employees
Death by HR: EEOC Incompetence and the Coming Idiocracy
The Justice is Too Damn High! – Gawker, the High Cost of Litigation, and the Weapon Shops of Isher
Regulation Strangling Innovation: Planes, Trains, and Hyperloop
Captain America and Progressive Infantilization
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
FDA Wants More Lung Cancer
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy

One comment

  1. This post sounds plausible. As it hints towards the end, the change implies that there is a profit opportunity for a man to start a new publisher. Nowadays that’s easy to do on a small scale even without much capital. Is the problem acquiring knowledge of the distribution channels? There are still men left in publishing, and one of them who has that knowledge could be lured away. Or is the problem that the bookstore people who decide which books to stock are women? That would be hard to overcome.

    The post didn’t mention the science fiction Hugo wars, which are related to this. Feminists in publishing want politically correct books; readers want action novels.


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