Effect of gender and work experience on importance of job characteristics when considering job offers
Teresa M. Heckert
This research investigated gender and work experience differences in the importance of job characteristics. Ratings of eight job facets, representing 48 characteristics, were provided by 102 seniors and 504 alumni from a mid-sized, Midwestern public university.
Women gave significantly higher ratings to family life accommodations, pleasant working conditions, travel, interpersonal relations, benefits, and societal contribution and significantly lower ratings to the pay and promotion facet. Significant work experience differences were found on seven facets. Graduating seniors rated the facets as more important than did alumni. Our results suggest seniors may need assistance with deciding among competing job offers, as they seem to think all job characteristics are important.
Predictions have been made, based on census data, that the adult work force will shrink in the future (Goldstein, 1989), suggesting increased competition among employers for graduating seniors. As students compare job offers, they are likely to consider various job characteristics offered by prospective positions (Heckert & Wallis, 1998). Companies need to be aware of which job characteristics warrant the most attention to attract and retain these future workers. In addition, college career counselors need to be aware of any differences between male and female students in what they deem most desirable in a potential job. In working with their clients, counselors may assume erroneously that the goal is to maximize salary. In fact, recent research (Browne, 1997) has shown that both men and women are willing to accept lower salaries if certain desirable features are present.
That said, women, on average, do receive less pay than men (Gasser, Oliver, & Tan, 1998). For example, in 1990, women’s average weekly pay was equal to approximately 77% of men’s earnings (Davidson & Cooper, 1992). Even within the same occupation, women have been found to receive less pay (Firestone, Harris, & Lambert, 1999). Furthermore, numerous studies (c.f., Heckert & Wallis, 1998) have found gender differences in the pay expectations of male and female college students. However, researchers have failed to discover the reason for this pervasive pay inequality. Many theories have been created in an attempt to explain the gender differences in salary and salary expectations. One of the more widely used theories is the Human Capital Approach (Firestone et al., 1999) in which differences in pay are attributed to differences in job inputs (e.g., years of work experience, effort, knowledge, highest degree earned) and concern with various job attributes. In general, researchers (c.f., Heckert et al., 2001; Jackson et al., 1992) have failed to find gender differences in the job inputs most likely to affect salary. On the other hand, the premise that pay differences may stem from differences in job characteristic importance remains a possibility.
Proponents of the Human Capital Approach have argued that women trade off higher salaries for other desirable job attributes (Firestone et al., 1999). For example, Mitchell (1984) suggested female physicians earn less because of their unwillingness, once they have reached a certain salary, to work extra for additional remuneration. In other words, to females, salary is less important than having sufficient time off. Obviously, for the Human Capital explanation to be correct, gender differences must exist on job characteristics’ importance.
Gender Differences in the Importance of Various Job Characteristics
Much of the research on gender differences in job characteristic importance has been done on samples of business students (Beutell & Brenner, 1986; Browne, 1997; Honeycutt & Rosen, 1997; Major & Konar, 1984; Martin, 1989). In addition, two studies (Redman et al., 1994; Todisco et al., 1995) focused on medical students. Among the remaining studies, two sets of researchers (Dick & Rallis, 1991; Marini et al., 1996) surveyed high school seniors and one researcher (Thacker, 1995) used actual employees at a university. Only Jackson et al. (1992) and Heckert et al. (2001) utilized samples of undergraduates from a wide variety of college majors.
The job characteristics most commonly studied in recent research stem from a model created by Major and Konar (1984) to explain gender differences in pay expectations. Major and Konar (1984) examined ten job characteristics; salary, promotion opportunities, interesting work, decision freedom, frequent feedback, high status, friendly co-workers, friendly supervisors, job security, and important work. Other researchers have also incorporated concern with family-life accommodations.
Two job characteristics of particular relevance in explaining the pay differential are importance of salary and promotion opportunities. Some research (Beutell & Brenner, 1986; Dick & Rallis, 1991; Major & Konar, 1984; Marini et al., 1996) supports the notion that salary is more important to males than females. However, most researchers have failed to find significant gender differences in concern with salary (Browne, 1997; Heckert et al., 2001; Honeycutt & Rosen, 1997; Jackson et al., 1992; Martin, 1989; Redman et al., 1994; Thacker, 1995). In addition, with some samples of business students, promotion opportunities were more important to males than females (Beutell & Brenner, 1986; Browne, 1997; Major & Konar, 1984). However, most researchers (Heckert et al., 2001; Jackson et al., 1992; Marini et al., 1996; Martin, 1989; Thacker, 1995) have found no evidence of a significant gender difference on concern with promotions.
The most consistently found gender difference in job characteristic importance is on interesting work. Women indicated this factor was more important than men did in six studies (Beutell & Brenner, 1986; Major & Konar, 1984; Marini, Fan, Finley, & Beutel, 1996; Martin, 1989; Thacker, 1995; Todisco, Hayes, and Farnill, 1995), and one researcher (Browne, 1997) failed to find a significant gender difference. With the remaining job factors, some studies found females give significantly higher ratings than males to decision freedom (Beutell & Brenner, 1986), frequent feedback (Beutell & Brenner, 1986; Browne, 1997; Martin, 1989), high status (Beutell & Brenner, 1986; Marini et al., 1996), friendly co-workers (Beutell & Brenner, 1986), friendly supervisors (Marini et al., 1996; Martin, 1989), important work (Beutell & Brenner, 1986; Marini et al., 1996), and family accommodations (Heckert et al., 2001; Jackson et al., 1992; Redman et al., 1994). In addition, males were found to give higher ratings to job security than females did in two studies (Beutell & Brenner, 1986; Todisco et al., 1995).
However, other researchers have found no evidence of significant differences on decision freedom (Major & Konar, 1984; Martin, 1989; Thacker, 1995), frequent feedback (Major & Konar, 1984), high status (Major & Konar, 1984; Martin, 1989; Thacker, 1995; Todisco et al., 1995), friendly co-workers (Browne, 1997; Major & Konar, 1984; Martin, 1989; Thacker, 1995), friendly supervisors (Major & Konar, 1984; Thacker, 1995), important work (Major & Konar, 1984; Martin, 1989; Todisco et al., 1995), job security (Major & Konar, 1984; Marini et al., 1996; Martin, 1989), and family accommodations (Browne, 1997; Honeycutt & Rosen, 1997). The inconsistent findings may be resulting from methodological differences. As mentioned previously, the studies varied in their sample composition and in the phrasing of the job attributes.
In addition to using undergraduates from many different majors, Jackson et al. (1992) and Heckert et al. (2001) utilized a more comprehensive list of job characteristics than found in the other studies with undergraduates. Rather than conducting gender comparisons on each job characteristic, these researchers used factor analysis to group the items into five job facets. In addition, separate analyses were conducted on the importance of salary. Both researchers found women gave significantly higher importance ratings than men to facets pertaining to a pleasant work environment and accommodations to family life. In addition, Jackson et al. (1992) found women gave higher ratings to personal development opportunities. Both researchers found men and women did not differ significantly in their ratings of the importance of salary, job advancement opportunities, or basic fringe benefits. Heckert et al. (2001) also failed to find gender differences on a job facet dealing with intrinsic job qualities (e.g., challenging work). However, as only two studies were done with a diverse group of college majors, additional research is needed to test further these conclusions.
Role of Work Experience in Job Characteristic Importance
In addition to being aware of gender differences in the importance of job characteristics, career counselors need to be aware of any developmental trends in the importance of job characteristics. Students may select a job based on job characteristics which are important while they are completing their final year of college, when their long-term interests would be better served by choosing a job which has attributes that will remain important across their life as a worker. Very little is known about whether importance of job characteristics changes after graduation or with work experience.
Only two studies could be found which compared the importance of job characteristics of workers at different experience levels. Gottlieb (1975) examined the expectations and attitudes of graduating seniors before, and one year after, graduation. One year after graduation, many former students reported that they were unable to find work related directly to their major; however, they reported being fairly content with their current work situation. They had become more concerned with job security and income since the prior year.
Poole and Pogrebin (1988) found that factors important to women in deciding to remain in police work changed over time. They questioned police officers with five levels of experience, ranging from less than three years to more than twelve years. They found importance of salary/benefits and job security increased significantly with experience while the importance of career advancement and relations with coworkers declined over time. In addition, job satisfaction, working with people, and the need for employment slightly increased in their importance for staying in police work. Challenge/excitement was very important to all experience levels except for those with nine to less than twelve years experience.
While these research findings are suggestive, they are based on rather low sample sizes or on female workers in one career field. Additional research is clearly needed to determine if similar results are obtained with a more heterogeneous sample. In addition, research is needed to determine if sex differences in the importance of job characteristics are maintained once graduates enter the workforce.
The Current Study
The purpose of this research was to investigate gender differences in the weight given to job characteristics. In light of prior research findings, we predicted women would give higher importance ratings to job accommodations to family life and pleasant working conditions. A second purpose of this research was to examine the effect of work experience on the weight given to various job characteristics and to determine if gender played a role in this effect. We predicted experienced workers would be more concerned than less experienced workers with salary and benefits. Given the paucity of research, we made no other predictions about the relations among job characteristic importance, gender, and work experience.
Participants were 102 graduating seniors and 504 alumni who had graduated one (n=114), two (n=114), five (n=122), ten (n=71), and fifteen (n=83) years previously from a mid-sized Midwestern public university. The sample contained 406 females, 194 males, and was predominately Caucasian (95.2%). Ages ranged from 20 to 53 years with an average of 28 (SD=6.1).
Job characteristic importance was measured by a 48-item questionnaire created for this study. Each item listed a job attribute and participants rated its importance in their willingness to accept or keep a job, using a seven-point response with the anchors of `Little Importance’ and `Extremely Important.’ The content of the items was based on the job characteristics used in prior research (i.e., Beutell & Brenner, 1986; Heckert et al., 2001; Jackson et al., 1992; Major & Konar, 1984; Martin, 1989; Redman et al., 1994; Todisco et al., 1995).
The one-page, two-sided questionnaire and a cover letter explaining the purpose of the research were sent, in Fall 1998, to all seniors, with known addresses, graduating in December 1998 (n=287) and 400 randomly selected alumni each from the classes of 1997, 1996, 1993, 1988, and 1983. To increase the sample size, a second mailing occurred in Spring 1999. This mailing was sent to 45 randomly selected graduating seniors and 150 and 120 randomly selected alumni, respectively, from the classes of 1988 and 1983. Of the returned surveys, eight were from non-graduating seniors and 214 were from alumni who graduated with their bachelor degree in a year other than the five chosen years. The resulting response rates for both graduating seniors and alumni was approximately 33% (i.e., 33.1% for seniors and 32.5% for alumni).
Descriptive statistics for the job characteristics are contained in Table 1. The three most important job characteristics were interest in the work itself, provides sense of accomplishment, and making use of abilities. The three least important characteristics were availability of child care, opportunity for part time work, and ease of movement into and out of the work force. Concern with salary was rather low with `pay’ ranked as 19th and `bonuses based on performance’ ranked as 35th out of 48 job characteristics.
Rather than conduct separate analyses on each of the 48 job characteristics, job facets were created based on the results of a factor analysis (principal components with varimax rotation). Through examination of the eigenvalues and the scree plot, eight factors were identified which together explained 52.4% of the variance. Summary scores, identified as job facets, were created for each factor. Coefficient alphas are shown in Table 1. The job facets were each analyzed with a 2 x 6 (Gender x Graduation Year) analysis of variance. Results are shown in Table 2. None of the gender x graduation year interactions was statistically significant. Consequently, the results for each variable will be discussed separately.
Significant gender differences were found on seven of the eight job facets. The means of each job facet for each gender are shown in Table 3. Women rated the pay and promotion facet significantly lower than did the men. However, the women rated the remaining six facets (i.e., travel, interpersonal relations, non-tangible benefits, family considerations, benefits, and societal contribution) significantly higher than did the men.
Work Experience Differences
Significant work experience differences were found on six of the eight job facets. The means of each job facet for each alumni year are shown in Table 3. The inherent job qualities facet was significantly related to work experience. Follow-up Bonferroni analysis revealed that alumni out of school for only one year rated the inherent job qualities facet significantly higher than the alumni out of school for 15 years. The pay and promotion facet was significantly related to work experience. Follow-up analysis revealed that graduating seniors and alumni out of school for only one year rated the pay and promotion facet significantly higher than the alumni out of school for 15 years.
The interpersonal relations facet was significantly related to work experience. Follow-up analysis revealed that alumni out of school for only one year rated the interpersonal relations facet significantly higher than the alumni out of school for 15 years. The family considerations facet was significantly related to work experience. Follow-up analysis revealed that graduating seniors and alumni out of school for ten years rated the family considerations facet significantly higher than the alumni out of school for either five or two years.
The benefits facet was significantly related to work experience. Follow-up analysis revealed that graduating seniors rated the benefits facet significantly higher than the alumni out of school for either five or two years. The societal contribution facet was significantly related to work experience. Follow-up analysis revealed that graduating seniors rated the societal contribution facet significantly higher than the alumni out of school for five years.
Our hypotheses that women would give higher importance ratings to job accommodations to family life and pleasant working conditions were supported. In addition, women gave higher importance ratings to travel, interpersonal relations, benefits, and societal contribution. A somewhat surprising finding was the significantly lower importance given to the pay and promotion facet (included pay, bonuses, promotion, prestige, and responsibility) by women. As mentioned previously, research on gender differences in concern with salary is mixed, with most researchers finding no gender difference on this characteristic. It is also important to note that concern with inherent job qualities did not differ significantly for men and women, and eight of the ten most important job characteristics were contained in this facet.
Gender did not interact with work experience in its effect on job characteristic importance. We predicted alumni from earlier years would be more concerned with pay and benefits than graduating seniors and recent graduates. Our data did not support this hypothesis. In fact, the opposite was found. Graduating seniors were more concerned with pay and benefits than some groups of alumni. In addition, graduating seniors rated family considerations and societal contribution higher in importance than did some alumni groups. Recent graduates (i.e., those out of school for only one year) rated pay and promotion, interpersonal relations, and inherent job qualities higher than other, more experienced alumni. In general, the importance of pay seemed to decline as work experience increased. Concern with benefits declined after graduation and reached its lowest point with the alumni out of school for five years. From year five to fifteen, importance ratings for benefits increased.
One of the most interesting trends in importance was with the family considerations facet. As with the other characteristics, importance ratings were highest among graduating seniors and declined through two years out of school. However, the importance increased with year five and even more so with year ten, only to drop off again in year fifteen. This pattern may be resulting from the presence of young children in the home.
Future research should extend this research to individuals who have been out of school for longer than fifteen years. In addition, rather than relying on alumni year as a rough estimate of years of work experience, actual time in the workforce should be gathered. Replicating our findings with a more diverse sample, in terms of race, socioeconomic status, and educational background, is also necessary before strong conclusions can be drawn from our preliminary research into the effect of work experience on job characteristic importance.
Our results suggest that career counselors should not assume the job characteristics most important to male students are the same as those important to female students. In addition, given that, in most cases, graduating seniors rated the job facets as more important than alumni, seniors may need assistance with decision-making. Because they seem to think all job characteristics are important, they may have difficulty selecting among competing job offers. Finally, our results are consistent with the possibility that students and experienced workers may trade off salary for other desirable job features. Future research should determine if these job characteristics are, in fact, related to salary, and, if so, whether they can account for the gender differences in pay.
Means and Standard Deviations of the Job Characteristics
Job characteristic item Mean SD Rank
Inherent Job Qualities Facet (alpha = .86)
intellectually stimulating 5.9 1.01 4
challenge 5.8 .95 7
making use of my abilities 6.1 .86 3
enhances skills/knowledge 5.9 1.02 5
provides sense of accomplishment 6.1 .92 2
interest in the work itself 6.2 .92 1
importance of the work itself 5.6 1.22 13
requires originality and creativity 5.2 1.39 26
variety in activities 5.8 1.00 8
decision freedom 5.8 .97 9
job difficulty 4.9 1.11 31
Travel Facet (alpha = .63)
geographic location 5.1 1.49 28
proximity to family members 4.5 1.66 40
amount of travel involved in the job 4.3 1.64 43
company’s reputation 5.3 1.27 22
Pay and Promotion Facet (alpha = .74)
promotion possibilities 5.4 1.42 17
bonuses based on performance 4.7 1.55 35
prestige of position 4.5 1.43 41
pay 5.4 1.19 19
responsibility 5.7 .92 11
Interpersonal Relations Facet (alpha = .76)
supervisor attitudes 5.8 .98 6
co-worker attitudes 5.8 1.11 10
supervisors you admire and respect 5.5 1.22 15
quality of supervision 5.3 1.27 23
clear-cut rules and procedures 4.8 1.44 34
adequate resources on the job 5.4 1.10 20
Non-tangible Benefits Facet (alpha = .64)
ample leisure time off the job 5.2 1.34 25
good hours 5.3 1.34 21
freedom from supervision 5.1 1.37 27
amount of privacy in work area 4.3 1.49 44
ease of travel to and from work 4.8 1.38 33
Family Considerations Facet (alpha = .75)
availability of child care 3.0 1.92 48
willingness to accommodate
parental needs 4.6 2.06 37
ease of movement into and
out of work force 3.7 1.65 46
opportunity for part time work 3.1 1.84 47
Benefits Facet (alpha = .78)
health and dental insurance plan 5.4 1.43 18
vacation benefits 5.3 1.36 24
retirement program 4.8 1.68 32
job security 5.6 1.22 14
sick leave policy 4.5 1.56 38
reimbursement for further education 4.6 1.71 36
comfortable working conditions 5.7 1.07 12
Societal Contribution Facet (alpha = .71)
makes a social contribution 4.9 1.60 29
working with the public 4.3 1.69 42
supervision of others 4.1 1.49 45
working in a team 4.5 1.43 39
uses your educational background 5.5 1.40 16
Societal Contribution Facet (continued)
frequent performance feedback 4.9 1.25 30
Analysis of Variance for Job Facets
Source df F P df F P
Inherent Job Qualities Facet Travel Facet
Gender (G) 1 2.15 .143 1 18.36 .000
Year (Y) 5 3.50 .004 5 1.16 .330
G x Y 5 .82 .537 5 .56 .729
Error 581 584
Pay and Promotion Facet Interpersonal Relations Facet
Gender (G) 1 4.49 .035 1 31.87 .000
Year (Y) 5 4.50 .000 5 3.75 .002
G x Y 5 .70 .623 5 1.13 .343
Error 577 582
Non-tangible Benefits Facet Family Considerations Facet
Gender (G) 1 5.04 .025 1 23.87 .000
Year (Y) 5 1.61 .154 5 5.26 .000
G x Y 5 .31 .910 5 .92 .465
Error 579 567
Benefits Facet Societal Contribution Facet
Gender (G) 1 15.37 .000 1 17.34 .000
Year (Y) 5 3.72 .003 5 3.06 .010
G x Y 5 .62 .683 5 .38 .865
Error 582 584
Note: GS = graduating seniors, F = females, M = males
Means (and Standard Deviations) of Job,
Facets for each Alumni Year and Gender
Facet GS 1 2 5
Inherent Job Qualities 64.2 65.0 64.3 62.7
(6.59) (7.03) (7.22) (7.18)
Travel 19.4 19.5 18.5 18.5
(4.11) (3.96) (4.48) (4.36)
Pay and Promotion 27.3 26.5 25.6 25.5
(3.94) (4.28) (4.04) (5.03)
Interpersonal Relations 38.5 33.4 33.0 31.8
(4.16) (4.71) (4.55) (4.85)
Non-tangible Benefits 25.9 24.5 24.5 24.4
(3.75) (4.72) (4.41) (4.71)
Family Considerations 16.5 14.1 12.8 13.2
(5.35) (5.58) (5.62) (5.79)
Benefits 38.6 36.4 35.0 34.3
(6.14) (6.44) (6.49) (6.21)
Societal Contribution 29.7 29.3 28.4 26.9
(4.98) (5.14) (6.01) (5.56)
Facet 10 15 F M
Inherent Job Qualities 61.6 61.7 63.7 62.7
(8.09) (8.53) (7.11) (8.16)
Travel 19.6 19.5 19.6 18.1
(3.74) (4.12) (4.18) (4.05)
Pay and Promotion 25.2 24.1 25.6 26.3
(4.82) (5.25) (4.70) (4.44)
Interpersonal Relations 31.6 31.3 33.3 31.0
(5.44) (5.18) (4.48) (5.20)
Non-tangible Benefits 24.5 24.4 25.0 24.1
(3.81) (4.78) (4.36) (4.54)
Family Considerations 15.9 14.1 15.1 12.6
(5.33) (5.49) (5.82) (5.02)
Benefits 35.2 35.9 36.7 34.3
(5.97) (7.98) (6.44) (6.84)
Societal Contribution 27.6 27.3 28.9 26.8
(5.83) (6.09) (5.52) (5.71)
Note. GS = graduating seniors. F = females. M = males.
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Author Note: Teresa M. Heckert, Division of Social Science; Heather E. Droste (St. Louis, MO), Division of Social Science; Grant W. Farmer (now at University of South Florida), Division of Social Science; Patrick J. Adams (St. Louis, MO), Division of Social Science; Jill C. Bradley (now at Tulane University), Division of Social Science; Brian M. Bonness, Division of Social Science.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Teresa M. Heckert, Division of Social Science, McClain Hall 214, Truman State University, Kirksville, Missouri 63501. Electronic mail may be sent via Internet to firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERESA M. HECKERT, HEATHER E. DROSTE, GRANT W. FARMER, PATRICK J. ADAMS,
JILL C. BRADLEY, AND BRIAN M. BONNESS
Truman State University
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