Women's Wages Are Lower Due to Occupational Segregation

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Editor: Noël Merino
Date: 2014
From: The Wage Gap
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Series: Current Controversies
Document Type: Viewpoint essay
Length: 1,381 words
Content Level: (Level 3)
Lexile Measure: 990L

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Ariane Hegewisch and Maxwell Matite, "The Gender Wage Gap by Occupation," Institute for Women's Policy Research, April 2013. Copyright © 2013 by The Institute for Women's Policy Research. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.

Ariane Hegewisch is study director and Maxwell Matite is a research intern at the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Women's median earnings are lower than men's in nearly all occupations, whether they work in occupations predominantly done by women, occupations predominantly done by men, or occupations with a more even mix of men and women. During 2012, median weekly earnings for female full-time workers were $691, compared with $854 per week for men, a gender wage ratio of 80.9 percent. Added to the gender wage gap within occupations is the gender wage gap between occupations. Male-dominated occupations tend to pay more than female-dominated occupations at similar skill levels, particularly in jobs that require higher educational levels. Tackling occupational segregation is an important part of eliminating the gender wage gap.

The gender wage gap and occupational segregation—men primarily working in occupations done by men, and women primarily working with other women—are persistent features of the U.S. labor market. Only four of the 20 most common occupations for men and the 20 most common occupations for women overlap. Four out of ten women (39.6 percent) work in traditionally female occupations and between four and five out of ten male workers (43.7 percent) work in traditionally male occupations; only 6.0 percent of women work in traditionally male occupations and only 4.8 percent of men in traditionally female occupations....

The Most Common Occupations for Women

The three largest occupations—'secretaries and administrative assistants,' 'elementary and middle school teachers,' and 'registered nurses'—together employ more than 13 percent of all women. More than 40 percent of full-time female employees worked in only 20 occupations, but only 15 percent of full-time male employees work in these occupations. Ten of these occupations are female sex-typed, meaning at least three out of four workers are women.

Within the 20 most common occupations for women, median full-time weekly earnings for women range from $1,086 per week for 'registered nurses' to $368 per week for 'cashiers.' Women earn less than men (these calculations include full-time workers only) in each of these most common occupations for women; the gender wage gap is largest for 'retail salesperson,' with a gender median earnings ratio for full-time work of 64.3 percent. Among all occupations with earnings for full-time workers, the gender gap is largest for 'insurance sales agents.' In two of the most common occupations, 'office clerks, general' and 'social workers,' women earn almost as much as men, with a wage gap of less than two percent....

The 20 most common occupations for full-time working men ... employ close to a third of male and one in seven female full-time workers; nine of the occupations are non-traditional for women, and in four out of the 20—'automotive service technicians and mechanics,' 'carpenters,' 'construction laborers,' and 'grounds maintenance worker'—there are too few women workers to estimate median weekly earnings for women.

Median full-time weekly earnings for men range from $2,275 for 'chief executives' to $403 for 'cooks.' Six of the most common 20 occupations have weekly earnings above $1,000, compared with only two of the most common occupations for women. Without exception, women's median earnings are less than men's in the 20 most common male occupations.

More than three times as many women (4.87 million) than men (1.24 million) work in occupations with median earnings for full-time work below the federal poverty threshold for a family of four.

Occupations with Poverty Wages

Four of the most common occupations for women—'cashiers,' 'waiters and waitresses,' 'maids and household cleaners,' and 'retail salespersons'—and one of the most common occupations for men—'cooks'—have median earnings for a full week of work that provide less than 100 percent of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' federal poverty levels for a family of four. The poverty levels refer to annual earnings and translating them into weekly earnings assumes that a worker would be able to get full-time work for 52 weeks a year; this may not always be possible in these occupations, characterized by considerable fluctuations in demand for labor and, hence, unstable earning opportunities.

A further six of the most common female and eight of the most common male occupations provide median earnings of less than 150 percent of the poverty threshold. Workers in these occupations are potentially placed among the working poor, with earnings that are often too high to qualify for public supports but too low to attain economic security. With one exception ('retail sales persons'), median earnings are below or near poverty for both men and women in such low wage occupations. These include occupations such as 'teacher assistants' and 'nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides.'

Low earnings are a significant problem for both male and female workers. Yet overall more than three times as many women (4.87 million) than men (1.24 million) work in occupations with median earnings for full-time work below the federal poverty threshold for a family of four.

The Gender Wage Gap by Race and Ethnicity

The gender wage gap differs by race and ethnic background. Hispanic/Latina women have the lowest median earnings, at $521 per week or 54 percent of the median weekly earnings of white men; black women have median weekly earnings of $599 or 63 percent of median weekly earnings of white men ($748). Asians have the highest median weekly earnings, for both men and women, and the highest levels of educational attainment. The wage gaps for Asian women compared with Asian men, and white women compared with white men are larger than the wage gap for the whole population; the wage gaps between black female and male workers and Latino male and female workers are smaller....

Our analysis of the 20 most common occupations shows that women's median earnings are lower than men's within most occupations.

A third of Asian and white women, a quarter of black women but fewer than one in five Hispanic women work in 'professional and related' occupations; black and Hispanic women are approximately twice as likely to work in service occupations than white women; Asian women are considerably less likely than other women to work in 'office and administrative support' occupations, and Hispanic women are most likely to work in 'production, transportation and material moving' occupations.

With one exception (black women's median earnings are the same as black men's in 'office and administrative support') in each of the major occupational groupings men earn more than women of the same race or ethnicity. The gender earnings gap is magnified by a race and ethnic earnings gap. For example, Hispanic women in management, business, and finance, earn only 86 percent of Hispanic men in these occupations, while Hispanic men earn only 69 percent of white men's earnings, and Hispanic women earn only 59 percent of white male managers. The median earnings of Hispanic women are lower than the federal poverty levels in four occupational groups: 'service occupations,' 'production, transportation, and material moving occupations,' 'sales and related occupations,' and 'natural resources, construction, and maintenance' occupations. These four occupational groups collectively employ five out of ten (48.6 percent) Hispanic full-time women workers.

Fifty years after the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and almost fifty years after Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made compensation discrimination illegal, a gender earnings gap remains. Our analysis of the 20 most common occupations shows that women's median earnings are lower than men's within most occupations, and that female-dominated occupations tend to have lower median earnings than male-dominated occupations. This has a particularly pernicious impact on the women who work in the lowest paid female occupations in 'nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides' and 'cleaning and housekeeping,' where even full-time work may leave them with earnings at or only marginally above the federal poverty threshold. Such poverty wages are particularly common for Latina women. The comparisons of earnings in broad occupational groups by race and ethnicity show that Latina women are particularly likely to be in the lowest paid jobs, even in the lower skilled occupations. Women and then families need enhanced efforts to ensure non-discriminatory hiring and pay practices, better training and career counseling, and work family supports.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ3010529234