Researchers: Sexual harassment leads to lower wages for women

The risk of sexual harassment at work is greater for individuals belonging to the minority gender at their particular workplace. This discourages women from entering well-paid jobs in male-dominated workplaces, according to professors Olle Folke and Johanna Rickne in a new SNS report.

SNS Research Brief 94. Sexual Harassment and Gender Inequality in the Labor Market 33.6 KB PDF

Swedish women are three times more likely to be subjected to sexual harassment at work compared to Swedish men. However, both women and men face this kind of harassment to a greater extent when the majority of their colleagues belong to the opposite gender. Furthermore, sexual harassment victims are 20 percent more likely to switch workplace within three years according to data in the SNS report Sexual Harassment and Gender Inequality in the Labor Market.

“We see how sexual harassment discourages women and men from entering workplaces where they belong to the minority gender. In addition, when women are exposed to sexual harassment, they often leave workplaces with relatively high wages and a high percentage of men to instead look for more low-paying workplaces with fewer male colleagues. This helps consolidate the gender pay gap,” says Johanna Rickne, professor of economics.

The researchers point to several potential benefits of taking preventative measures. In addition to affecting individuals and contributing to inequality, sexual harassment also results in costs for employers. A survey shows that about two-thirds of workers have heard of at least one case of sexual harassment at workplaces in their particular industry. Workers often avoid workplaces in which they are aware of previous sexual harassment, thereby making it more difficult and expensive for employers to recruit.

However, there is a definite gender dimension in these patterns as well. Workers are clearly more concerned with avoiding workplaces where their own gender faces harassment compared to workplaces where the opposite gender is more exposed to harassment.

“This gives us a hint on how to design preventative measures. Why do workers not find it as problematic when someone of the opposite gender is subjected to sexual harassment? Increasing solidarity between men and women in the workplace may represent an important element in terms of addressing these problems,” according to Olle Folke, professor of political science.

Safer work environments also enable more women and men to choose jobs based on their personal interests and skills – without thinking about the gender distribution in a particular work environment. This will make it easier to utilize their skills in the labor market as a whole. In this way, preventive measures aimed at combatting sexual harassment might contribute to a more resource-efficient society, according to Folke and Rickne.

About the authors

Olle Folke is a professor of political science at the Department of Government, Uppsala University.

Johanna Rickne is a professor of economics at the Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI), Stockholm University.