Pay Gap Persists in Female-Dominated Career Fields

A majority of nurses, secretaries and teachers are women, but still earn less than male counterparts.

By SHARE

Tuesday marked Equal Pay Day, a day established in 1996 to symbolize how long it takes women to earn the same wages that men earned last year. However, a new study shows that the concept the day was founded on hasn't yet caught on, even in fields where women are a majority of the workforce.

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According to a study done by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, among the 20 most popular occupations for women workers, they only out-earn men in one field: bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks. Among secretaries and administrative assistants, women make up 96 percent of workers but earn 86 percent as much as men. Likewise, women account for 85 percent of maids and housekeepers and make only 83 percent of what men in that profession earn. A majority of financial managers are women—54.3 percent—but they earn only about 66 percent of what men in that occupation make.

"Women are less likely to be hired into the most lucrative jobs, and—when they work side by side with men—they may get hired at a lower rate and receive lower pay increases over the years," says Ariana Hegewisch, study director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research and one of the study's co-authors.

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The pay and gender gaps also persist in jobs dominated by men. Only 24.7 percent of chief executives are women, and they earn only 69 percent as much as male executives. Among truck drivers and other driver/sales workers, only 4.2 percent of workers are women. Those women earn only 71.8 percent of the pay than their men counterparts take home.

Even as women are catching up to—and even surpassing—men at some educational levels, it may not be enough to boost their pay. Women with professional degrees are paid just 67 cents for every dollar paid to men with professional degrees, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families.

In addition, societal and workplace norms can also work to hold women back. Women still tend to take on family responsibilities—like caring for sick children—more so than men, says Vicky Shabo, director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families.

"All of those responsibilities tend still to be borne by women, so when workplaces don't really provide the infrastructure for women to be able to provide for their families, we see the wage gap as one of the consequences of that," she says.

Shabo points out that many workers are not covered the Family and Medical Leave Act. That law, which requires employers to provide unpaid family leave, only applies to businesses that employ more than 50 people and their employees who have been on the job for more than a year.

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Shabo says the lack of paid leave options for workers to either care for children can hit low-wage women particularly hard.

"The inability to take time off work over the birth of a child or to care for a child really does contribute to wage differentials because those people end up leaving the workforce or getting fired," she says. That means that upon re-entering the labor force, those workers may have to take an entry-level or low-paying job.

For some minority groups, the pay gap is even larger. While the median yearly pay for American women overall is nearly $10,800 less than their male counterparts, African-American women earn nearly $19,600 less than men, and Latinas earn nearly $23,900 less.