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Blog Data & Research

The Size of the Gender Pay Gap Varies Across Industries

But a smaller gap doesn’t always mean progress

woman working behind the counter Jane Harkness is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. Her writing has been published on Thought Catalog, Student Universe, Pink Pangea, and more. She blogs daily on Medium, and you can check out more of her work at janeharknesswrites.com.

The wage gap is a persistent problem for working women, but behind that single famous statistic are countless factors that can affect a woman’s individual earnings. On average, women make 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, with this gap widening when comparing white men and women of color. Although the wage gap exists in almost every field, women in certain occupations make almost as much as men, while women in other industries only make about two-thirds of what men do.

A recent report by SmartAsset found that male-dominated occupations tend to have larger pay gaps. Take women working as financial advisors: They earn only 58.9 percent of what their male coworkers make.

Read more: Top 20 Tech Companies Where Women are Most Satisfied with Their Pay - 2019

On the other hand, female-dominated fields have much smaller pay gaps. The pay gap between male and female vocational nurses is the smallest of any occupation, with women earning 99.63 percent of what male vocational nurses make.

Interestingly enough, there is one field where women actually earn slightly more than men. Female wholesale and retail buyers (with the exception of farm products) earn about 100.68 percent of what men do, which amounts to about $6 more per week.

Are the higher-ups in female-dominated fields simply more progressive and actively pushing for wage equality? Unfortunately, that’s not quite the answer. In general, occupations that are more popular among women and have smaller pay gaps generally pay less overall. People working in these occupations typically need a raise across the board—not just the women. (Think school teachers, for instance.) The pay gap isn’t small because women in these occupations are finally being paid what they are really worth; it’s because most of the workers are taking home smaller paychecks, regardless of their gender.

Read more: 36% of Women Say a Male Colleague Has Told Them How Much He Makes

The low wages in female-dominated fields illustrate how labor that is generally considered “feminine” is often devalued. In fact, as more women enter a field, the average salary typically drops, and occupations that involve caregiving or working in a service industry are typically not lucrative. For example, male and female food prep and service workers don’t see much of a difference in pay. Women in this field take home about $401 per week, while men earn about $415. But this only adds up to $20,800 and $21,500 per year, respectively, which is not enough for most individuals to live off.

Even when men go into these fields, they may make slightly more than the women they work with, but they are also making significantly less than men in male-dominated fields. And sometimes, the only reason the pay gap is shrinking in these fields is not because women are getting paid more with each coming year—it’s because men in these industries are seeing their own wages fall, which shrinks the gap.

Read more: 83% of Women Aren't Seeing Enough Efforts to Close the Pay Gap

Female social workers earn 96.2 percent of what male social workers earn, which is a marked improvement over the usual 80 cents to the dollar. However, the pay gap for this occupation is getting smaller because male social workers saw their average wages drop by 10 percent from 2016 to 2017. Seeing that the wage gap for a particular occupation is close to disappearing may seem encouraging. But when this occurs because men are being paid less, and not because women are actually bringing home bigger paychecks, it’s far from being a sign of progress.

This article is part of InHerSight’s month-long coverage of equal pay. Timed with Equal Pay Day, the series looks at how the pay gap affects women of all backgrounds and in all industries.

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