The H. Gregg Lewis prize for the best paper published in the Journal of Labor Economics during 2014-15 has been awarded to Jessica Pan for “Gender Segregation in Occupations: The Role of Tipping and Social Interactions,” which appeared in the April 2015 issue.

The Prize Committee consisted of Jesse Rothstein (Chair), Laura Giuliano (previous Lewis Prize winner), and Melvin Stephens Jr.  The committee identified many impressive articles that make important contributions to the field of labor economics. Even in this pool, Pan’s article stood out.

Pan examines the tipping phenomenon – Schelling’s insight that even small amounts of prejudice can generate large levels of segregation – in the context of sorting across occupations by gender.  While the U.S. experienced a large change in the overall female employment share during the 20th century, Pan documents that movements in the female share varied dramatically across occupations, with share changes in some occupations that exceeded 50 percentage points.

Pan shows that occupation tipping points can be identified, around which the net male employment growth rate changes discontinuously. Moreover, using data on males’ beliefs regarding the role of women in society, Pan shows that differences in these attitudes across U.S. regions are associated with regional differences in tipping points within occupations. This is strong evidence that social interactions – preferences of workers regarding the gender composition of their potential coworkers – account for important movements in gender composition, which cannot be fully attributed to, for example, changes in the nature of work in each occupation or changes in men’s and women’s preferences about job tasks.

The committee appreciated the paper’s creative insight that models developed for the study of neighborhoods can also be used to examine occupations. Modern labor economists have pointed to occupational segregation as an important source of persistent gender differences in labor market outcomes, but the reasons for this phenomenon have not been sufficiently studied. Pan contributes to the literature by proposing and testing an explanation that can account for a quantitatively important component of that phenomenon.