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U.S. Women Make Gains in Highest-Paying Occupations but Still Lag Men


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  • Winter 2024
  • 2023: Looking Back on a Year of Milestones
  • How States Manage Their Budgets
  • Indigenous Leaders Protects Canada's Boreal Forest
  • Evidence-Based Solutions Led to Milestones in 2023
  • The Beauty of Chilean Patagonia
  • Bridging Divides: A Call for Stronger Leadership
  • U.S. Women Make Gains in Highest-Paying Occupations
  • Utah Leads the Way on Wildlife Crossings
  • Philadelphia's Wage Tax Has Little Impact for Residents
  • America's New Tipping Culture
  • A Roadmap for Managing Wildfire Costs
  • Navigating the U.S. Political Landscape
  • 5 Facts About Hispanic Americans and Health Care
  • Debt Collection Cases Dominate Civil Dockets
  • The Human Impact of Solving Plastic Pollution
  • It's Time to Fix Housing in America
  • Return on Investment
  • The Growing Threat of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
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U.S. Women Make Gains in Highest-Paying Occupations but Still Lag Men

Women now make up 35% of workers in the United States’ 10 highest-paying occupations—up from 13% in 1980—and have increased their presence in almost all of these occupations, which include physicians, lawyers, and pharmacists.

Still, women remain the minority in nine of the 10 highest-paying occupations, according to a November report from Pew Research Center. (The exception is pharmacists, 61% of whom are women.) And that 35% share of women across the 10 occupations remains well below women’s share of the overall U.S. workforce (47%).

Workers in the 10 highest-paying occupations typically earn more than $100,000 a year—over twice the national average of $41,000. And women’s presence has changed more noticeably in some of these occupations than in others. Since 1980, the share of women dentists has more than quadrupled (from 7% to 33%), the share of women physicians has roughly tripled (from 13% to 38%) and the share of lawyers who are women has risen from 14% to 40%.

The shares of women working in high-paying engineering fields have increased by smaller margins since 1980: Women make up less than 10% of sales engineers and petroleum, mining, and geological engineers.

And up in the air, only 7% of airplane pilots and navigators are women, compared with 2% in 1980.

With some of these high-paying occupations—including physicians, lawyers, dentists, and pharmacists—requiring specialized graduate degrees, women have increasingly earned degrees that are required for these jobs. The Center report found that women now make up about half of those receiving several professional, advanced degrees such as Juris Doctor (52% of recipients today are women, versus 30% in 1980), Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Medicine (51% versus 13%), and Doctor of Medicine (50% versus 23%).

Women now also earn 63% of Doctor of Pharmacy degrees, and pharmacists are also the only occupation in the top 10 where women make up the majority. This could be because the field offers flexible work hours, a collaborative environment, and family-friendly policies, according to economic research.

But the report found that women remain in the minority among those receiving certain bachelor’s degrees required for some high-paying occupations: mathematics or statistics (42% of recipients today are women, unchanged from 1980), physics (25% versus 13%), and engineering (23% versus 9%).

Outside of undergraduate major selection, there are other reasons women may experience barriers to entering high-paying occupations, even as they achieve parity in many advanced degree programs, the report says. Gender differences in household and parenting responsibilities may play a role, as could gender discrimination.

Since 1980, women have increased their presence in most of the 10 highest-paying occupations in the U.S. Among workers in the 10 highest-paying occupations, % who are women
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Women have gained ground in the nation’s highest-paying occupations, but still lag behind men

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