The Gendered Workforce

Women remain disproportionally represented in low-wage jobs, while men dominate the highest-paying fields.

Why It Matters

Less Pay for Women's Work

A few generations ago, newspapers routinely posted employment ads in separate categories: Help Wanted Male and Help Wanted Female. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, along with more enlightened sensibilities, helped to change that, but the notion that some jobs are for men and others for women stubbornly persists today. 

Though the landscape of the U.S. labor force is changing, women remain disproportionately represented in certain occupations, such as teaching, nursing, social work and office and administrative jobs. And those jobs tend to pay less. The Economic Policy Institute reports that, in 2018, teachers were paid more than 21 percent less than others in jobs with similar education and training, Men, by contrast, continue to dominate in fields such as construction, maintenance and repair, and production and transportation work. Similarly, women are underrepresented in the highest pay occupations, such as those in the finance industry and in the STEM fields. What’s more, women are much more likely than men to work in minimum-wage jobs, such as home-health aides, child-care workers, cashiers and restaurant workers. These jobs pay as low as $7.25 per hour in some states.

AN Early Path toWARD Inequality

From the time children start school, they encounter gendered expectations regarding what boys and girls are “good” at or “should” be focusing on. These different expectations, as well as external pressure to conform to stereotypes about gender roles, “steer” women and men into classes and extracurricular activities, college majors and ultimately career directions.  Steering leads to “occupational segregation,” which is a major factor behind the pay gap: Male-dominated jobs pay better than traditionally female-dominated jobs, even when they require the same level of training and skill. 

Childcare workers, about 92.7% of whom are women, have median earnings of $26,000 a year, while construction workers, 96.7% of whom are men, have median earnings $37,284 per year. This disparity persists even though both jobs require similar levels of education and training.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Bottom Line:

Women’s work is less valued than work done by men — not because it is intrinsically less valuable to society, but merely because it is done by women.  

AAUW 2010-11 American Fellow Cecille Pemberton Labuda
AAUW 2010-11 American Fellow Cecille Pemberton Labuda

The STEM Gap

Women are under-represented in science, math, engineering and techology (STEM) fields because of cultural biases and structural barriers.  These fields include some of the fast-growing —and highest paying — occupations.

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The Importance of STEM Role Models

The current statistics — that women make up only 30% of scientists — must change. Women who are in science should consider outreach activities to elementary schools and high schools. Girls cannot be what they cannot see.

Woman in lab wearing safety goggles examining the contents of a petri dish.

Take Action

There are lots of ways to get involved with AAUW’s work to advance gender equity. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of women and girls.

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