How does gender-essentialism affect the labor market in Shanghai?

Introduction video:

My research topic is “How does gender-essentialism affect labor market in Shanghai?”, with a focus on migrants workers who usually have lower skills and could not enjoy all the social benefits due to their residency. China is a fast developing economy, and Shanghai, as a development center, attracted a lot of migrant workers from out of the city. They have largely changed the labor market of Shanghai, bringing in new labor forces especially for a few highly demanded occupations. As more low skilled migrants are coming in, are there typical male jobs vs female jobs for them? Are men and women facing stereotypes in job choice, or are they totally selecting out of personal interest? What are the suboptimal situations caused by gender-essentialism in workplace and expected roles? Does the globalization and economic growth bring equal benefit to man versus women? To what extent is gender-essentialism still affecting men and women?

This topic highly relates to UN Sustainable Development goal of Gender Equality, as this is a fundamental increasing gender quality problem that is about increasing the choices of professions; Quality Education, as decreasing gender essentialism will encourage people to receive better education on the areas they are interested in, not imposed responsibilities; and Reduced Inequalities.


Important concepts to know for my post:

  • gender essentialism: a belief that there are some innate differences of the genders that causes the obvious differences between the genders (of course, some of the features correct, and some are incorrect. My post will focus on the mainly incorrect ones.)
  • intersectionality: the theory of how various forms of identity (e.g. gender, race, class) together influence and impact a person
  • Masculinity: attributes and characteristics that are believed to be characteristics of men
  • Gender role: a set of expectations on behaviors based on one’s gender

Evidences from Researches & Evaluation of the Situation

Think about that one male classmate whose interest is in a predominately female course subject. What does he look like in the classroom environment? How about his future life as an employee?

A study from Australia has shown that being rare males in their work place, they can gain career benefits. This includes being favored as jobs applicants, being fast tracked to more senior positions, and receiving more opportunities for developing skills. These cause men to monopolize powerful positions in female dominated occupations. Men are also more likely to get ‘masculine’ positions, causing them to earn more and gain more prestige. (Moskos, 2015)

However, this doesn’t mean that male identity can only bring advantages in female positions. The guy with “feminine” interests are likely to be mocked as gay. This trend is also seen in the workplace – he will likely face prejudice and suspicion by others. He might be laughed of not being a “real man”, and he might face suspicion regarding their sexuality just because he chose the work. This has stopped men in entering predominately female occupations.

The general trend is here: gender-essentialism leads to an insufficient use of human capital in the workplace. A more intelligent female might lost her chance to a less intelligent but “masculine” men, and intelligent men might be driven away from jobs that would cause them to be perceived as “not so men”.



The Situation for Shanghai

The case with Shanghai is that migrant workers, usually low skilled, is further disadvantaged and constrained on the labor market for the intersection of their gender and their non-resident and/or rural residency status.

With a rural residency, migrants have limited choices of desirable urban jobs, and are also ineligible for urban welfare benefits, such as housing, medical care, and children’s education. This grants them with harsher living condition in the cities. (Huang, 2000)

Attending college and/or joining the army, however, are how people usually change their residency and advance into better life. Unfortunately, nonlocal and rural women are less likely to have equal access to these resources compared to their male counterparts, due to the long assigned gender roles of the society. Consequently, female migrants are less likely to access desirable urban jobs and more frequently end up in jobs with poorer conditions (such as factory assembly line workers).

The theories about intersectionality teaches us that the situations with migrant workers in Shanghai are not simply impacted by gender only but also residency status. Both factors limit the type of job the migrant workers are available to. However, both the female and male migrant workers may still have more job opportunities without gender-essentialism.

Investigation on Local Community

In the last week of March I visited two nearby offices and did an interview with their managers. One is Lianjia Real Estates, a real estate agency dedicated to sell second-handed housing, and the second is called Yixin Home Service, a company dedicated to providing domestic services for families.

I have specifically picked these two jobs for two reasons. Firstly, they are both fast developing industries. The Shanghai population has increased, and demand for housing has sharply increased, thus boosting the real-estate and especially second-handed housing real-estate market. Due to heavy competition, work hours have also increased, which has lead into less time left for house work and thus heating up the domestic services market (in fact, Yixin Home Services has recruited three workers for my family in the past few years). Secondly, both jobs are largely taken by migrants, who are a big part of the labor market and have limited choices.

Throughout the interview, I was actively taking notes about the demographics and conditions of these workers. Enjoy the infograph!
(There are a few explanations at the end also, so stay for longer!)

Interesting findings from my on-the-ground research:

  1. I have always been seeing real estate agents on the streets. I was surprised to know that the majority of the Lianjia agents, selling second handed homes, are male. The manager told me that this is because young ladies tend to be shy. However, I found out that the real estate agents in the US and those for first handed housings in Shanghai are mainly female. Based on my observations, I suspect this is due to the physical strength demanded for second-handed home agents. The agents in the US drive cars to different locations, while the first-handed housing agents usually stay in the same compound or even the same building. However, the Lianjia agents have very tight schedules, and need to walk to different compounds (sometimes far away from each other) everyday under the sunlight or in the windchill. Of course, this might not seem very “physically demanding” for us, but think about the girls who grew up in small cities – it is very likely that these ladies have been taught to follow their gender roles, such as being conservative and delicate. They might not get much training on being strong or outspoken, and thus lost opportunities when they are choosing their jobs.
  2. The manager of Yixin Home Services told me that the reason why the vast majority of domestic workers are female is that females are more suitable for the houseworks, such as cooking and doing laundry. Her male workers are mainly hired as drivers, farmers, or maintenance workers. However, if you separate these tasks, they actually seem “gender neutral” – most chefs who cook are males, and a lot of farmers are female too. Therefore, this might be due to the fact that housework is “house” workthe impression that females are for home and males should be going out to earn money (“男主外女主内”) is probably what has caused this skewed gender ratio.


Strategies for catalyzing change

  1. Representation on media. Media is where the young generation obtain the most information, and presenting figures with atypical jobs for their gender could perhaps change they way kids perceive the jobs and gender roles. I am aware that sometimes political correctness can be obnoxious, so I would suggest this sort of representation at situations where occupation plays a minimum role – for example, people are always attracted to love stories, and enjoy or dislike the love stories regardless of the characters’ occupations.
  2. Changes in the education system. I have been working at an NGO dedicated to the education of remote and underprivileged schools in China, and have discussed with the teachers about how kids can maximize their potential and not to be bothered by their gender roles. For example, there would always be one PE teacher that is more easy with girls (in fact, in schools in China boys are tested for their speed on running 1000 m while girls are only required 800 m), which gives girls a false impression that they don’t have to be strong. A lot of teachers also gave out misleading comments, such as “it’s ok, a lot of girls are bad at math”/”stop singing like that, be a man”, which are lines that should be absolutely be avoided.


Works cited:

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