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An origin of sex segregation occurs among some of the oldest known, still living, somewhat isolated human cultures. Another relates to sex differences and sexual identity during childhood development and later membership in society. Religious perceptions of reality can contribute to sex segregation.

Although a comprehensive study of major world economies has revealed that homicide, infant mortality, obesity, teenage pregnancies, emotional depression and prison population all correlate with higher social inequality, they do not necessarily correlate with sex segregation.[1]

Sex segregation

Sex segregation is the separation of people according to their sex or gender. In some circumstances, sex or gender segregation is controversial, with critics contending that in most or all circumstances it is a violation of human rights, and supporters arguing that it is necessary to maintain decency, sacredness, modesty, female safety[2] or the family unit.

The San of southern Africa

The San people of southern Africa are among the five populations with the highest measured levels of genetic diversity and may be the most basal branch of the phylogenetic tree comprising all living humans. The status of women is relative equality.[3] Sex segregation appears to be limited. San women gather fruit, berries, tubers, bush onions and other plant materials for the band's consumption. San men traditionally hunt using poison arrows and spears in laborious, long excursions. Kudu, antelope, deer, dikdik, and buffalo are important game animals. The San offer thanks to the animal's spirit after it has been killed. The liver is eaten only by men and hunters because it is thought to contain a poison unsafe for women.

Traditionally the San have been an egalitarian society.[3] Although they have had hereditary chiefs, the chiefs' authority is limited, the San instead make decisions among themselves by consensus.[4] In addition, the San economy is a gift economy, based on giving each other gifts on a regular basis rather than on trading or purchasing goods and services.[3]

Childhood development

For the vast majority of children, there is coincidence of biological sex, social gender label, and psychological gender identity, which is sufficient to produce same-sex segregation.[5] Sex segregation in children reflects social factors common to all members of the sex and is a group phenomenon resulting from gender identification and labeling, rather than similarities in sex-typed activities.[6]

Sex differences

A sex difference is a distinction of biological and/or physiological characteristics typically associated with either males or females of a species in general. Quantitative differences are based on a gradient and involve different averages. For example, human males are taller than human females on average,[7] but an individual female may be taller than an individual male. Sex differences usually describe differences which clearly represent a binary male/female split, such as human reproduction. Though some sex differences are controversial, they are not to be confused with sexist stereotypes.

For example, when some employers' assumptions about the sexes lead them to assign individual men and women to different jobs, they are sex segregating on the basis of sex differences and sexist stereotypes.[8] In the United States, occupational sex segregation has declined since 1970, but most workers remain in sex segregated jobs.[8] National institutions that promote investments in sex- or gender-biased skills are a mechanism that perpetuates sex segregation.[9]

"One of the most robust findings of evolutionary psychology is that the human mind is sexually dimorphic, with the sexes differing, on average, in a variety of temperamental and cognitive traits. Sex differences in such traits might plausibly be expected to have a substantial effect on social behavior and social patterns. One social domain in which these differences may play out with substantial force is the workplace".[10] "Students of occupational behavior have long understood that people tend to gravitate toward, and succeed at, jobs for which they have the skills and ability and that provide them with the satisfactions that they desire."[10]

The female role in gestation and lactation is of ancient origin dating back to the dawn of mammals, whereas men who achieve positions of power tend to have access to more females and leave behind more offspring than other men.[10] Among mammals, the demands of gestation (nine months in humans) and lactation (up to a year or two) mean that females necessarily invest more in their offspring initially. Mammalian males can increase their reproductive success through mating with other females, especially during an impregnated female's periods of gestation and lactation. Other males pursue the same strategy, thereby competing among themselves through contests of raw physical power or through skill at forming male coalitions (thereby reducing competition for females by sex segregating other males from females).[10] Human males can provide post-conception investment such that female mate choice is driven by genetic endowment and his ability and willingness to invest in her and her offspring.[11]

Because two groups exhibiting average differences in talents and tastes would be expected to make different workplace choices due to selective pressures that have been operating on the two sexes for millions of years, men and women would be unlikely to act interchangeably in a labor market that emphasizes gender-biased skills.[10] Men who achieve positions of power tend to have access to more females and leave behind more offspring than other men when variations away from egalitarianism, such as that of the San people, are perpetrated on society. Preference for selective traits (e.g., achieving positions of power) may be advantageous in geographically isolated situations but tend to increase species vulnerability to extinction when that isolation is lost.

Supply side origins

Supply-side explanations of occupational sex segregation look to individual characteristics of workers, such as values, aspirations, and roles, for the origin for occupational outcomes.[12]

For individuals with early plans for employment intermittency or more actual breaks in employment, there is no tendency to work in predominantly female occupations, contrary to human capital theory.[12] Women who choose occupations when anticipating breaks in employment probably do not choose the occupation because of lower wage penalties for time out of the labor force.[12]

White and Latina mothers sacrifice some pay generally for "mother-friendly" features of jobs, in agreement with the theory of compensating differentials, but the opposite is true for African-American mothers.[12]

Women aspiring to or expecting to work in predominantly female jobs are in more heavily female jobs fourteen years later, consistent with gender socialization.[12] For women (but not men), more liberal gender role attitudes predict working in a more sex-typical occupation.[12] For men (but not women), having had either a father or mother who worked in a female occupation predicts working in a more heavily female occupation.[12] On average in 1993, women worked in occupations that were 65 percent female while men worked in occupations that were 27 percent female.[12] 60 percent of men and women in 1980 would have to change occupations to achieve full integration.[13]

Wage differentials

A number of researchers have commented that female-male wage differentials are very small for single persons and that married persons account for almost all of the observed female-male wage differential.[14]

Socio-spatial symbolism

Within the people of the Lacandon Jungle, the Sun and its related attributes (heat, height, right-handedness, and light) are associated with men.[15] Thus, men sit on the right side of a fire and women sit on the left.[15] Further, men sit on stools placing themselves higher than women who sit on the Earth, which is considered feminine.[15] Template:Seealso The head of the Anutan church, the catechist, speaks from a pulpit in front (the eastern end) of the church, while the congregation sits facing him.[16] The men sit on the right side of the central aisle, and the women sit on the left.[16] Polynesian cultures represent variations on a set of common themes; i.e., social relations are expressed in spatial terms and represented as an elaborately articulated, hierarchically ordered set of binary oppositions: right to left, front to back, east to west, high to low, and seaward to inland.[16] The cosmological order underlying Polynesian notions of aristocracy apparently originating from high volcanic islands is compromised by spatial ambiguities when living on an atoll consisting of a ring of islets, and the hierarchical social order becomes insupportable leading to a more egalitarian basis for social relations.[16]

Among the Daasanach of southwestern Ethiopia, in the space for coffee drinking, men sit on the left side and women sit on the right.[17] As with other pastoral societies in East Africa, the Daasanach tend to consider livestock and pastorlism in relation to men, and crops and agriculture in relation to women.[17]

In Oceania from the perspective of the chiefs, the men sit on the left-hand side of the house, while the women sit on the right.[18]


Patriarchy may or may not specifically include physical sex segregation. But, it definitely includes a condition of power/status segregation favoring men over women. One dimension of sex segregation indicative of patriarchy is a lack of male-female joint participation in warfare, work, and community decision making.[19] However, it has been noted that patriarchal systems of government do not benefit all men of all classes.[20]

Historical research has not yet found an "initiating event" of the origin of patriarchy.[21] However many scholars point to about six thousand years ago (4000 B.C.E.), as the point of the invention of fatherhood and the spread of patriarchy.[22][23][24][25] "The discovery of agriculture, which at the beginning of the Neolithic had been such a positive step by women, was by the end of the period to have had unforeseen, and unfortunate, consequences for them".[25]

As far back as 3100 B.C.E. in the Ancient Near East, we find sexual domination of women, a restriction on their reproductive capacity, and their exclusion from "the process of representing or the construction of history".[21] With the appearance of the Hebrews, there is also "the exclusion of woman from the God-humanity covenant".[21][26] In the early origins of the Israelites, Ishmaelites, Edomites, and the Midianites and kindred peoples, according to the book of Genesis, Abraham is the founding patriarch. And, it is from the time and influence of Abraham that patriarchy most likely originated among these peoples. The hegemonic spread of patriarchy is linked with the Kurgan hypothesis, by now widely accepted among scholars.


Matriarchy is a form of society in which the leading roles are taken by women and especially by the mothers of a community.[27] Early matriarchies may have been established based on women's initial domination of farming and agriculture.

One of the most important figures in the Elamite early pantheon was a goddess named Kiririsha, a name with cognates found in the belief systems of other peoples throughout the region. "The very fact that precedence was given to a goddess, who stood above and apart from the other Elamite gods, indicates a matriarchal approach in the devotees of this religion. In the third millennium, this great mother of gods still held undisputed sway at the head of the Elamite pantheon".[28]. According to "The Cambridge Ancient History" [29]: "the predominance of a supreme goddess is probably a reflexion from the practice of matriarchy, which at all times characterized Elamite civilization to a greater or lesser degree". Elam is the first high-culture of Iran and, after the Sumerians, is considered one of the most developed societies of the ancient history [28].

See also


  1. "Inequality: The Mother of All Evils?". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-01-16.
  2. Amnesty International includes segregated toilets among the measures to ensure the safety of girls/boys in schools. Six steps to stop violence against schoolgirls, Document ACT 77/008/2007, November 2007.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Marjorie Shostak (1983). Nisa: The Life and Words of a ?Kung Woman. New York: Vintage Books. p. 13. ISBN 0713914866.
  4. "The !Kung Bushmen".
  5. Maccoby EE, Jacklin CN (1987). Reese HW. ed. Gender segregation in childhood. In: Advances in child development and behavior. 20. New York: Academic Press. pp. 239–87.
  6. Maccoby EE (1988). "Gender as a social category". Dev Psychol. 24: 755–65. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.24.6.755.
  7. Gustafsson A, Lindenfors P (2004). "Human size evolution: no allometric relationship between male and female stature". J Human Evol. 47 (4): 253–66. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2004.07.004. PMID 15454336.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Reskin B (Aug 1993). "Sex segregation in the workplace". Annu Rev Sociol. 19: 241–70. doi:10.1146/
  9. Estevez-Abe M (2005). "Gender bias in skills and social policies: the varieties of capitalism perspective on sex segregation". Soc Pol. 12 (2): 180–215. doi:10.1093/sp/jxi011.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Browne KR (2006). "Evolved sex differences and occupational segregation". J Organiz Behav. 27: 143–62. doi:10.1002/job.349.
  11. Trivers RL (1985). Social Evolution. Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin/Cummings.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 12.7 Okamoto D, England P (Winter 1999). "Is there a supply side to occupational sex segregation?". Sociol Perspect. 42 (4): 557–82.
  13. Blau (1988).
  14. Anker R (Autumn 1997). "Theories of occupational segregation by sex: An overview". Internatl Labour Rev. 136 (3): 138–64.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 McGee RJ, Gonzaléz B (1999). "Economics, women, and work in the Lacandon jungle". Frontiers: J Women Studies. 20 (2): 175–89. doi:10.2307/3347023.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Feinberg R (Jul 1988). "Socio-spatial symbolism and the logic of rank on two Polynesian outliers". Ethnology. 27 (3): 291–310. doi:10.2307/3773522.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Sagawa T (Jul 2006). "Wives' domestic and political activities at home: the space of coffee drinking among the Daasanetch of southwestern Ethiopia". African Study Monographs 27 (2): 63–86.
  18. Lichtenberk F (2004). "Representing space in Oceania: culture in language and mind". Oceanic Linguitics. 43.
  19. Whyte (1978). The status of women in preindustrial societies. ISBN 0691093806.
  20. Korenman. "Patriarchy: Use of the Term".
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Strozier, Robert M. (2002). Foucault, Subjectivity, and Identity: : Historical Constructions of Subject and Self. pp. 46. ISBN 9780814329931.
  22. Kraemer S (1991). "The Origins of Fatherhood: An Ancient Family Process". Family Process. 30 (4): 377–92. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.1991.00377.x. PMID 1790784.
  23. Wilhelm Reich (1936). The Sexual Revolution. ISBN 0374502684.
  24. Eagly AH, Wood W (Jun 1999). "The Origins of Sex Differences in Human Behavior: Evolved Dispositions Versus Social Roles". Amer Psych. 54 (6): 408–23. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.54.6.408.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Ehrenberg MR (1989). Women in Prehistory. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 192. ISBN 0806122234.
  26. Lerner, Gerda (1986). The Creation of Patriarchy. ISBN 0195051858.
  27. 'Matriarchy', Encyclopædia Britannica, 2007.
  28. 28.0 28.1 "African presence in early Asia", p.26, 27 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "African" defined multiple times with different content
  29. "The Cambridge Ancient History". p. 400.

Further reading

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