Women Outnumber Men in the Workforce, But Pay Gap Persists

By: Nancy Bilyeau · March 06, 2024 · Reading Time: 3 minutes

82 Cents to a Man’s Dollar

Women made up 51% of the college-educated workforce aged 25 and older in the fourth quarter of 2023, according to Census data. Even so, the gender pay gap is still proving strong, according to PEW Research. In 2022, U.S. women on average earned 82 cents for every dollar men earned – hardly more than in 2002, when women earned 80 cents to the dollar.

While American women have very different job opportunities than they did 50 years ago, some of the progress has stalled in recent years and the gender gap persists, particularly at the top levels of government and business jobs, according to Pew. The increased presence of women in the highest-paying jobs hasn’t made this reality go away.

The Future Is Female But Not Everywhere

Women’s share in the labor force grew throughout the second half of the twentieth century – growing to 47% in all of 2023 from 30% in 1950, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics – but the advances have leveled off since.

The number of women holding college degrees and jobs surged over that period. Women first surpassed men in the college-educated labor force in the fourth quarter of 2019, and have managed to maintain this numerical advantage throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused massive job losses.

Another positive marker: More than one-third of workers in the country’s top ten highest-paying occupations are women – up from 13% in 1980, PEW’s 2023 analysis of Census Bureau data shows.

Women have increased their presence in nearly all of these high-paying jobs, such as physicians, lawyers, dentists, and so forth, which often earn more than $100,000 a year. However, despite such gains, women are still the minority in 9 of 10 of these jobs. The sole exception is pharmacists: 61% are women, per Pew.

Leadership Shortfall

Women still lag in top leadership positions in both business and government, according to PEW. While they have made some progress in a wide range of leadership positions in recent decades, they haven’t reached parity. As of September 2023, only 28% of U.S. congressional members and about a third of state legislators are women. It looks even worse in executive business leadership, where only 11% of Fortune 500 company CEOs are women, along with 30% of Fortune 500 board members.

When asked about the factors that may play a role in the gender wage gap, half of U.S. adults point to employers treating women differently as a major reason, PEW research shows. Notably, women are far more likely than men (61% versus 37%) to say a major reason for the gap is that the employers treat women differently.

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