Does Hiring Discrimination Cause Gender Segregation in the Swedish Labor Market?

In the Swedish labor market, the prevalence of either men or women in particular occupations cannot be explained by hiring discrimination.


Evidence suggests that men and women tend to predominantly occupy certain jobs or professions – known as “occupational segregation”. There are both supply and demand side reasons that may explain this segregation. Supply-side reasoning suggests that men and women may be choosing different careers, while on the demand-side reasoning suggests that employers may be differentially hiring men and women. Focusing on the demand side, this study explores whether male and female job candidates are differentially hired into a variety of occupations in Sweden.

Despite Sweden having one of the highest employment rate for women in the world, its labor market is highly segregated by gender. Women are more likely to work in fields such as healthcare, education, and retail; whereas men are more likely to work in engineering, construction, and truck driving. Given that overall, wages among female-dominated professions tend to be lower than male-dominated professions, occupational gender segregation has been found to drive approximately half of the country’s 17.6 percent gender wage gap.[1]

In order to understand why the Swedish labor market is segregated with respect to gender, this study examines gender discrimination in hiring for particular jobs. Job applications with either a male or female name attached are sent to advertised vacancies in occupations that are either male-dominated, mixed-gender, or female-dominated. Employers’ invitations to interview rates are analyzed.

[1] Statistics Sweden. 2004. Pay Differentials between Women and Men in Sweden. Information on Education and the Labour Market 2004:2. Örebro: Statistics Sweden.



Women have a slightly higher response rate to interview in mixed and female-dominated occupations, and there is no evidence of gender difference in response among male-dominated occupations.

  • Overall, women were 3 percentage points more likely to be invited to interview than men (callback rate was 0.29 for men and 0.31 for women).
  • Among male-dominated occupations, response rates were not significantly affected by the applicant’s gender.
  • Among mixed-gender occupations, female applicants were 4 percentage points more likely to be invited to interview by a prospective employer.
  • Among female-dominated occupations, female applicants were also 4 percentage points  more likely to be invited to interview by a prospective employer.
  • The largest effects were found among restaurant workers (preference for females), accountants (preference for females), and construction workers (preference for males).
  • In mixed and female-dominated occupations in the public sector, women were less likely to be invited to interview than men.

While women were more likely to receive responses to applications in mixed and female-dominated occupations, overall effects sizes were very small. Therefore, it is unlikely that the 4 percentage points difference found can account for the segregation occurring in female-dominated occupations. The study concludes that discriminatory hiring is likely not a determining factor for gender segregation in the Swedish labor market, and upstream supply side factors (such as individuals´ choice of education and occupation) may play a larger role.


3,228 standardized job applications were sent to 1,614 job openings listed in the Swedish Employment Agency’s online database between May 2005 and February 2006. Two applications were sent to each opening, one assigned a male name and one a female name. Three standardized  job applications of equal experience levels were constructed for thirteen different occupations, consisting of a cover letter and resume. Two applications were randomly selected for each job opening, and assigned a common name with a clearly identifiable gender. Employer response rates to job applications in terms of four outcomes were recorded: neither applicant invited, both invited, only the male applicant invited, and only the female applicant invited.

Job openings were categorized by industry as male-dominated, mixed gender, or female-dominated. Male-dominated occupations were defined as those in which more than two-thirds of employees were men, such as computer professionals, motor-vehicle drivers, and construction workers. Mixed occupations were defined as between one-third and two-thirds men and comprised business sales assistants, lower secondary language school teachers, and upper secondary school teachers. Finally, female-dominated occupations were defined as those with less than one-third men and included restaurant workers, accountants, cleaners, preschool teachers, shop sales assistants, lower secondary math and science teachers, and nurses.

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