Study: Most women still working as cleaners, clerks, teachers, while men rule top management

Only two of 29 occupation categories — sales and services jobs — had a fairly equal share of men and women. — Reuters pic
Only two of 29 occupation categories — sales and services jobs — had a fairly equal share of men and women. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 15 — Men outnumber women in most occupations except those considered low-level or “feminine”, a report by Khazanah Research Institute (KRI) showed.

According to the research outfit’s “State of Households 2018: Different Realities” report, the few professions dominated by women include health associate roles such as nursing and midwifery — that were almost 80 per cent women — general and keyboard clerks (79.5 per cent), cleaners and helpers (77.1 per cent), and teaching professionals (68.6 per cent).

Men dominated more senior-level positions, comprising almost 82 per cent of chief executives, senior officials and legislators, as well as 80.5 per cent of hospitality, retail and other services managers.

Only two of 29 occupation categories — sales and services jobs — had a fairly equal share of men and women.

Professions dominated by men included plant and machine operators and assemblers; professionals; service and sales workers; business and administration associate professionals; stationary plant and machine operators; information and communications technology professionals; craft and related trades workers; elementary occupations; and administrative and commercial managers.

The gender bias was also detected among market-oriented skilled agricultural workers; agricultural, forestry and fishery labourers; technicians and associate professionals; subsistence farmers, fishers, hunters, and gatherers; managers; labourers in mining, construction, manufacturing and transport; electrical and electronic trades workers; drivers and mobile plant operators; and building and related trades workers excluding electricians.

The report also highlighted that while most occupations recorded higher women’s participation between 2011 and 2016, the gender’s representation dropped in all managerial jobs. Hospitality, retail and other services managers saw the highest decline in women’s representation, dropping from 24.9 per cent to 19.5 per cent.

“In other words, women’s representation at the higher-level positions have shrunk within the past five years,” said the report.

“At ages where most senior positions are due, the relative absence of women would, to a large degree, lead to lower women’s visibility in these occupations, because the pool of women candidates available for consideration is limited to begin with.”

Gender wage gap bigger than thought

Screengrab from Khazanah Research Institute’s ‘The State of Households 2018: Different Realities’ report.
Screengrab from Khazanah Research Institute’s ‘The State of Households 2018: Different Realities’ report.

The gender wage gap narrowed from 8.3 per cent in 2013 to 6.2 per cent in 2017, during which time Malaysian women’s average monthly salary was RM2,772, lower than men’s RM2,954.

However, disaggregated comparisons by KRI revealed greater disparity.

Women aged 25 to 39 earned slightly more, between 0.2 and 0.8 per cent, than men in that age group.

In the 40-54 age group, however, women’s mean wages were 6.5 per cent lower than that of men. Workers aged 55 and above recorded the biggest gender wage gap at 16.4 per cent.

“Is the wage disparity observed among the older groups a result of certain life events that take place in women’s life at these ages, or a consequence of their occupational decisions influenced by generational factors, such as education level and social norms?

“Given that wages data are only available from 2012 onwards, synthetic cohort analysis adopted previously is unfeasible here to disentangle both effects,” said KRI.

The gender pay gap was also evident within each occupation, ranging from 5.5 per cent for technicians and associate professionals to 40.4 per cent for skilled agricultural workers.

Some jobs with the lowest wage gaps were those with relatively high women’s representation, like professionals (20.6 per cent), technicians and associate professionals (5.5 per cent), and clerical support workers (15.7 per cent). Despite low women’s presence in managerial positions, the wage gap was 19.8 per cent, attributed to higher bargaining power.

“As a high proportion of women are engaged in occupations with a lower wage gap, it is no surprise that the wage gap is narrowed at the aggregated level, and in this case, to a substantial extent.

“Clearly, focusing on the overall wage gap obscures the much larger wage disparity faced by different groups of women, the neglection of which would potentially ill-inform any policy decision.”

Family responsibilities keeping women out of work

Screengrab from Khazanah Research Institute’s ‘The State of Households 2018: Different Realities’ report.
Screengrab from Khazanah Research Institute’s ‘The State of Households 2018: Different Realities’ report.

Women’s labour force participation rate was only 53.5 per cent in 2017, compared to 77.7 per cent for men.

For those outside the labour force, seven out of 10 unemployed men are aged 15 to 24. However, almost two million women outside the labour force were of prime ages between 25 and 54, almost 10 times that of men at 200,000.

“In other words, women made up almost 90 per cent of the prime-age population outside the labour force,” said the KRI report.

The report found that 58 per cent of women who did not join the labour force, approximately 2.6 million women, cited family responsibilities, contrasted to 3.2 per cent or 69,800 men who did the same.

Malaysian working-age women were more highly educated than men, but a large proportion of them did not work, with many still in prime ages, according to the report.

“The major reason for this is the disproportionate care responsibilities shouldered by women in the family. Despite their educational achievement, many women are hindered from participating in the labour force due to family responsibilities.

“Hence, to alleviate women’s challenge to balance family and work, it stands to reasons that a fairer distribution of housework between men and women is crucial.”

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