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December 1999, Vol. 122, No. 12
The role of gender in job promotionsDeborah A. Cobb-Clark and Yvonne Dunlop
Firms often use promotions both to give workers an incentive to work hard and to retain valuable employees while, at the same time, filling higher level positions. In addition to giving workers financial rewards, promotions afford them the incentive and opportunity to acquire new skills or additional training that may ultimately—especially among young workers who are promoted—result in permanent earnings differences.1 Given this potential, efforts have increasingly focused on understanding the role of gender in the promotion process. The concern is that differential opportunities for promotion may contribute to the wage gap that currently exists between the genders, either directly, by influencing wages and wage growth, or indirectly, by contributing to labor market segregation, which is in turn related to relative wages.2
This article examines the role of gender in the promotion process for young men and women early in their careers. It first highlights the qualitative nature of promotions and then focuses on who gets promoted by considering the characteristics of men and women who have been promoted. Finally, the relationship between labor market conditions—in particular, unemployment rates, and employment growth in industries and occupations—and promotion is assessed.3
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1 Howard Birnbaum, "Career Origins, On-the-Job Training, and Earnings," Southern Economic Journal, April 1976, pp. 587–99, argues that "differential skill, training, and promotional opportunities in individuals’ early careers can lead to permanent earnings differentials" (p. 589).
2 See William T. Bielby and James N. Baron, "Men and Women at Work: Sex Segregation and Statistical Discrimination," American Journal of Sociology, January 1986, pp. 759–99, for a discussion of the critical role of job segregation in generating gender differences in labor market outcomes.
3 See Stephan J. Spurr, "Sex Discrimination in the Legal Profession: A Study of Promotions," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, April 1990, pp. 406–17; Joni Hersch and W. Kip Viscusi, "Gender Differences in Promotions and Wages," Industrial Relations, October 1996, pp. 461–72; and Kristin McCue, "Promotions and Wage Growth," Journal of Labor Economics, April 1996, pp. 175–209, for recent reviews of the empirical literature on the relationship between gender and promotions.
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