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Horizontal segregation


Horizontal segregation in the workplace can be broadly defined as the concentration of men and women in different kinds of jobs. The European Commission (EC), in its 2009 report on Gender segregation in the labour market (1.7 MB PDF), states that horizontal segregation is understood as ‘the under-representation or over-representation of a given group in occupations or sectors not ordered by any criterion’.

The European Health and Safety Agency (EU-OSHA) states that:

...horizontal segregation is where the workforce of a specific industry or sector is mostly made up of one particular gender. An example of horizontal segregation can be found in construction, where men make up the majority of the industry’s workforce, whereas childcare is almost exclusively a female occupation.

This is different to vertical segregation, where opportunities for career progression within a company or sector for a particular gender are limited.

The Commission’s report found that for the EU as a whole, segregation remains relatively high, at 25.3 % for occupational segregation and 18.3 % for sectoral segregation. However, there are also wide differences among countries, with a gap of about 10 percentage points between the most and the least segregated countries.

The countries with the highest levels of gender segregation were found to be Estonia, Slovakia, Latvia and Finland, and the four countries with the lowest levels of gender segregation were Greece, Romania, Malta and Italy.

The report highlighted the top six occupations employing the largest numbers of women:

  • shop salespeople and demonstrators;
  • domestic helpers and related jobs such as cleaners and launderers;
  • personal care and related workers;
  • other office clerks;
  • administrative associate professionals;
  • housekeeping and restaurant services workers.

The top six occupations employing the largest numbers of men are:

  • motor vehicle drivers;
  • building frame and related trade workers;
  • managers of small enterprises;
  • building finishers and related trades workers;
  • physical and engineering science technicians;
  • machinery mechanics and fitters.

Horizontal segregation in practice means that women are typically over-represented in sectors or occupations that often offer lower rates of pay. They also require skill levels that are rated lower than those required by sectors and occupations in which men are over-represented. This is considered to be a major contributory factor to the gender pay gap in the EU.

In its Strategy for equality between women and men 2010–2015 (55.6 KB PDF), the European Commission points to occupational segregation as one of the causes of the gender pay gap, as women and men still tend to work in different sectors and jobs.

On the one hand, women and men are often over-represented in certain sectors, with ‘female’ jobs (mostly in health care, education and public administration) being in general less valued than typically male professions. On the other hand, within the same sector or company the jobs done by women tend to be of lower value and less well paid.

Most recently, the Commission’s Report on Progress on equality between women and men in 2012 (567 KB PDF), released in May 2013 calculates the level of sectoral and occupational segregation as the average national share of employment for women and men applied to each occupation. Differences are added up to produce the total amount of gender imbalance expressed as a proportion of total employment (ISCO classification).

On this basis, it finds that gender segregation in occupations in the EU27 was 24.5 in 2012, down from 25.1 in 2007. Gender segregation in economic sectors in the EU27 was 18.7 in 2012, up from 18.2 in 2007.

See also: Discrimination; Equality between women and men; European Institute for Gender Equality; Gender equality; Women in the labour market.


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.
Page last updated: 12 September, 2013