Women, and especially women of color, have been disproportionately affected by occupational segregation and pandemic job losses, according to a new report released by the US Department of Labor.
“Occupational segregation” refers to the fact that women are over- or underrepresented in certain jobs. In 2021, only four of the top 20 jobs in the U.S. with the highest median income were dominated by women:
- Nurse practitioners (85.1% women)
- Veterinarians (71.6% women)
- Physician assistants (62.7% women)
- Pharmacists (54.3% women)
On the other end of the spectrum, 14 of the 20 lowest-paying positions, such as childcare workers (93% women) and hairdressers, hair stylists, and cosmetologists (90.5% women) were predominantly held by women. Eight of the 20 were more than 75% women, while only one (cleaners of vehicles and equipment) was more than 75% men.
The pandemic made it harder for women to maintain paid employment because many found themselves with caregiving duties. In addition, sectors where women hold most of the jobs (such as leisure and hospitality, and education and health services) endured steep job losses. As a result, women’s unemployment rate at the initial peak of the pandemic was higher than men’s.
Much of the gender difference can be attributed to particularly high job losses among women of color, who were more likely to lose their jobs than white women.
Hispanic women had the highest measured unemployment during the initial peak of the pandemic (20.1% in April 2020), due to the fact that they were overrepresented in industries that saw some of the biggest job losses (leisure and hospitality, retail trade, and health care and social assistance). Black women weren’t as likely to be concentrated in these industries, but they still lost jobs at a disproportionate rate. For example, Black women were only 5.9% of wholesale and retail trade employees in 2019, but they represented 14.6% of job losses in this sector during the pandemic. Overall, women of color were also less likely than white women to be able to work remotely.