April 16 (UPI) -- Social scientists have traditionally viewed homophily and network-based job recruitment as major drivers of segregation, but new research suggests a previously overlooked phenomenon called the Trojan-horse mechanism can have the opposite effect.
Homophily describes the tendency for humans to form bonds and cluster with those who are similar. As numerous network studies have shown, homophily can encourage segregation along race, age, gender and class lines.
Because many job seekers gain employment through the help of friends, it makes sense that homophily would drive occupational segregation too.
But the latest study, published Friday in the journal Science Advances, suggests previous studies of homophily and network-based job recruitment have ignored the bonds formed inside workplaces and their effects on how people move from one job to the next.
With occupational segregation and restricted opportunities, many jobs remain highly gendered. What that means, however, is that workers in the minority have no choice but to form bonds with those in the majority.
When said worker leaves a job and gains employment elsewhere, those relationships can persist, increasing the odds that other workers -- this time workers from the majority group -- will make a similar job change.
"The Trojan-horse mechanism shows how constraints on the formation of same-gender ties within workplaces affect mobility patterns between workplaces and thereby the gender segregation of the labor market," study co-author Peter Hedstrom, professor at the Institute for Analytical Sociology at Linkoping University in Sweden, said in a news release. "When an individual changes job and moves from one workplace to another, colleagues are likely to subsequently follow the same path."
The Trojan-horse mechanism suggests that a job change that initially reinforces segregation -- the departure of a minority employee -- can engender future desegregating moves.
To see if the Trojan-horse mechanism plays out in real-life labor markets, social scientists analyzed employment and mobility data, as well as demographic and socioeconomic information, collected from Stockholm residents participating in a large-scale longitudinal survey. The data, collected between 2000 and 2017, provided strong empirical evidence for the Trojan-horse mechanism.
Authors of the new study suggest their work can inform organizational decision-making, as well as public policies designed to reduce segregation.
"For efficiency as well as affirmative-action reasons, workplaces often want to hire individuals of the underrepresented gender," said Hedstrom. "What these results suggest is that recruiters who want to increase diversity or change the gender balance of the workforce should pay attention not only to the gender of the recruited individual but also to the gender composition of the workplace from which the individual is recruited."