Stockholm university

Sexual harassment causes more gender segregation in jobs and larger wage inequality

Discrimination at work contributes to increased inequality in the labor market. The risk of experiencing sexual harassment by managers or employees is higher for women and men whose workplaces have a large proportion of colleagues of the opposite sex. This pattern, in turn, creates more gender segregation and a larger gender wage gap, according to a new study in The Quarterly Journal of Economics published by Oxford University Press.

Hand that shows gender discrimination
In the current study, the researchers examined how gender discrimination at work in the form of sexual harassment from managers and employees creates more gender segregation and a larger gender wage gap. Photo: Andrey Popov/Mostphotos

Women and men are segregated across workplaces, and previous research indicates that such segregation may explain 15 to 20 percent of the gender wage gap. Researchers here studied how gender discrimination in work conditions contributes to such inequality. Using information from the bi-annual Swedish Work Environment Survey, the study shows that women’s and men’s harassment risks grow with the share of opposite-sex people in their workplace. Women are about three times as likely as men to experience sexual harassment, but in the most male-dominated workplaces, they are nearly six times more likely than men to do so. Meanwhile, men’s risk is almost twice as high as women’s in the most female-dominated workplaces.   


The researchers used a survey experiment

The study shows that harassment causes more gender segregation. The researchers used a survey experiment to measure workers’ aversion to taking jobs in workplaces where a sexual harassment incident had occurred. Both women and men had a high aversion against jobs in such workplaces, but their aversion was three times larger if the harassment victim had the same sex as themselves. These findings imply that harassment deters women from taking jobs in male-dominated workplaces, where women are the main harassment victims, and vice versa for men. 

Workplaces with a larger share of men pay more also becomes clear in the study. A workplace with more than 80 percent men offers a 9 percent higher wage for the same work as a workplace with 80 percent female employees. 

Johanna Rickne
Johanna Rickne, Professor of Economics, Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University. Photo: Magnus Bergström/ The Wallenberg Foundations

“By deterring women from taking jobs in male-dominated workplaces, harassment also keeps women away from the highest-paying employers in the labor market, and men from the lowest-paying ones. In this way, sexual harassment contributes to the gender wage gap”, says Johanna Rickne, Professor of Economics at Stockholm University and one of the paper’s authors.


Victims leave for new jobs

Harassment also produces gender inequality through job changes among harassment victims. The researchers here found that women who report sexual harassment are 25 percent more likely to have left for a new job in the three years after the harassment. Men who report sexual harassment are 15 percent more likely to have left for a new job. The study indicates that women who experience sexual harassment are more likely to leave for a job at a company with a lower share of men and a lower wage premium.


More information

The paper “Sexual harassment and gender inequality in the labor market” is published in the scientific journal The Quarterly Journal of Economics by Oxford University Press.



Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (FORTE) 
The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation