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The Gender Wage Gap Differs by Occupation

SOURCE: AP/Toby Talbot

People gather on the steps of the statehouse in Vermont for a rally on National Equal Pay Day. Recent surveys show that women earn more than men in only 7 out of 500 professions.

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The median wage gap between genders fell since 2000, but progress is currently stalled. Women still earn less than men in nearly every occupation, though some suffer from greater wage disparities than others. The following is a list of the top 10 occupations with the largest and smallest gender wage gaps.

Of the 534 occupations listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn more than men in exactly seven professions. Together, these seven occupations account for about 1.5 million working women, or about 3 percent of the full-time female labor force. The remaining 97 percent of full-time working women work in occupations where they earn less than their male counterparts.

The median weekly earnings for all full-time wage and salary workers in 2011 were $756. Both women and men in the 4 out of 10 jobs with the smallest wage gaps notably earn below this threshold. This indicates that jobs where women don’t experience a wage gap tend to be lower paying than the average. But in the 10 jobs with the worst gender wage gaps—where men earn significantly more than women—men’s average weekly earnings are always at or above the median. In these jobs, men are earning more than the average worker, but interestingly women’s wages fall below the national average of $756 in 4 of the 10 jobs noted above.

Education, success, and occupational prestige are not enough to protect women from the gender wage gap. While data show that American women are in more senior managerial professions than other OECD countries, these high-achieving women are still disadvantaged by an above-average wage gap. Managerial professionals, CEOs, and administrators all rank in the top 10 occupations in which women earn less than men.

So what does this list show? Even in the top 10 jobs with the smallest gender wage gaps, women make more than men in only seven professions. Additionally, it tops out with women earning a premium of 6.4 percent compared to their male counterparts, compared to a 39.4 percent gap in the top occupation where men earn more than women.

Let’s be clear: There should not be a gender wage gap in either direction. But a comparison of what that wage gap looks like in actual dollars per week shows that the situation is much more serious for women than for men. The 51,000 female operations research analysts earn $68 per week more than men. Compare this to the 745,000 male chief executives who earn an average of $658 more per week than similarly employed women.

We cannot attribute the wage gap to just one factor, which means that we need multiple strategies to eradicate it. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was an important first step but more needs to be done. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act would prevent employers from firing workers who voluntarily talk about their salaries with co-workers, sanction employers who illegally commit wage discrimination, and provide funds for negotiation training for women and girls. It is also necessary to establish a National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force that would bring together the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, and the Office of Personnel Management to address barriers to pay equity and recommend steps that could be taken to address the issue.

Nancy Wu is an intern on the Economic Policy team at the Center for American Progress. Sarah Jane Glynn is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center.

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