March marks Women’s History Month—an opportunity to celebrate and honor women’s contributions to society and the economy. Yet women’s work remains undervalued and underpaid. Women work in jobs that pay them less than men, both within the same occupation and across different sectors. Indeed, the long-standing gender and racial inequalities in the labor market were, yet again, largely due to occupational segregation.

IWPR’s most recent analysis finds that:

  • Women faced substantial wage gaps, irrespective of whether they worked in female-dominated or male-dominated fields.
  • Of the 134 professions analyzed, there was only one in which women earned higher wages than men.
  • Black and Latina women earned the least compared to White men.
  • Women of color were crowded in low-wage jobs with less access to employment benefits.

To this day, earnings differences persist despite federal employment protections such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibit wage discrimination based on sex or race. Though women have made huge strides since the 1960s, both in terms of employment and education, it is deeply concerning that gender and racial differences in earnings remain.

One might think that the gender wage gap would be smaller in those occupations where women are the majority of workers, but that is sadly not the case.

‘Registered nurses’ was the second most common occupation for women working full-time. With 85.7 percent of workers being women in 2023, it was clearly a female-dominated profession. But while female nurses made $1,409 in median weekly earnings, male nurses made $1,657—an earnings difference of $248 per week or $12,896 per year.

What is more, when men do decide to enter female-dominated fields such as nursing, they tend to rise to leadership positions much faster than women. This dynamic, also called the glass escalator, is not only unfair, it also undermines the value of women’s contribution to the US economy.

Women of color are particularly hard hit by pay inequalities and occupational segregation. Black and Hispanic/Latina women made less than two-thirds of White men’s earnings (with earnings ratios of 65.8 percent and 59.2 percent, respectively). On top of being overrepresented in jobs that come with low wages, e.g., service occupations, women of color still earn less than men in those very jobs.

Being employed in low-paying occupations also means having less access to employment benefits. Compared to workers in management, business, and financial occupations, those in service occupations are significantly less likely to access medical care benefits (95 percent vs. 46 percent) or paid leave benefits (96 percent vs. 64 percent), as the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows.

This discrepancy increases women’s risk of economic insecurity. Plus, one cannot forget that women are more likely to be single parents, suffer wage losses linked to parenthood, and be multiple jobholders to make ends meet.

Tackling the wage gap requires a variety of different policies and programs that take into account women’s disproportionately high share of being caregivers and single parents. Pay transparency laws, investments in the care infrastructure, minimum wage increases, and comprehensive access to employment benefits, including for part-time workers, are all measures that have proven effective in strengthening women’s economic status and that should be implemented nationwide.