Why most people at the top of major companies are men: Dr Catherine Hakim’s ‘Preference Theory’ (2000)

I recently met with an eminent Business Studies professor who agreed with my general analysis about ‘women in the boardroom’, but believed that because of demographic changes in recent years – namely the flood of women into business-related courses, such as accounting – the ‘problem’ of board gender ‘imbalance’ would disappear within 10-20 years. I disagreed, citing Dr Catherine Hakim’s Preference Theory, which shows that while four in seven British men are ‘work-centred’, only one in seven British women is.

Dr Hakim first published her theory in an Oxford University Press book in 2000 when she was a Senior Research Fellow at the London School of Economics. The professor was intrigued by the theory, but suggested the proportion of work-centred women would have risen dramatically since 2000. I doubted this was true, but said I’d contact Dr Hakim on the matter. She kindly sent the PDF at the end of this piece, and commented as follows:

Regarding your anonymous professor, you can give him the attached three-page synopsis of preference theory. The ‘trends’ and ‘critical mass’ arguments do not apply in medicine, where women are already over half of all entrants to medical schools. The BMA recently expressed concern about this, saying that because women choose part-time work etc., and do not put in the same time and effort into bargaining and trade union activities, so the relative pay and standing of doctors would decline slowly but surely. In Russia, where the majority of physicians are female, the pay and status of doctors is far lower than in the west. So I do not see these female accountants breaking the ‘glass ceiling’ to push their way into the boardroom. Even in Sweden, where ‘gender equality’ has ruled for decades, only one-third of women work full-time continuously in the same way as men – see Table 3 in the attached file summarising preference theory. Most men assume that once women start professional and managerial careers, they will behave exactly like men. In reality, research shows that even the most highly educated and qualified women divide into three groups, with careerist women a minority in all countries, even in Sweden.

Dr Hakim’s synopsis of Preference Theory is here.

8 thoughts on “Why most people at the top of major companies are men: Dr Catherine Hakim’s ‘Preference Theory’ (2000)

  1. An interesting shift happening in Medical General Practice (GP) is from “contractor status” to salaried. Most GPs remain effectively self employed in small businesses under contract to the NHS . And this independent status has been prized for decades. However in recent years a trend to salaried status ( employed by a health company as a GP) has increased from providing locum emergency and out of hours services to local surgeries . Part of this acceleration is the popularity of being an employee among female GPs wishing to achieve ” work life balance” . At the same time there has been a growth in Advanced Practitioners ( additionally trained nurses) employed to free Doctors from their more routine duties, a help in enabling GPs to work shorter hours .

  2. Interesting. I would observe, without implying any slight on Dr Hakim’s work, that it has been known for decades that professions in which women come to predominate decline in status. My wife’s field (veterinary medicine) serves as a good example. Is there a correlation between the decline in status of once highly regarded fields such as law, medicine and architecture and the rise in status of trades and crafts such as cooking (‘cheffing’) gardening and furniture making, which require the sort of learning and application, not to mention physical effort, that do not generally appeal to women yet seem to be attracting well born and educated young men?


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