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Albeit not as fast as in the past

There are still big differences in the jobs held by men and women. But as a recent article by economist Barbara H. Wootton in the Monthly Labor Review indicates, the occupational gender gap in the U.S. has shrunk considerably--sometimes in surprising areas.

To be sure, the biggest gains in gender desegregation occurred in the 1970s as women surged into the labor force, sex discrimination was outlawed, and females streamed into colleges and professional schools. While the pace has slowed since those watershed years, the advance seems sure to continue.

For one thing, roughly 1.5 million more women than men are enrolled in college today. And by 2007, experts project, the gap will widen further, with female college enrollment hitting 9.2 million, vs. 6.9 million for males.

That's important because, as Wootton notes, women have generally moved most rapidly into those occupational groups in which employment has been expanding. In recent decades, overall job growth has been fastest among managers and professionals--occupations that pay higher-than-average wages and generally require a college degree. In 1995, women accounted for 48% of such jobs--up from 35% two decades earlier.

Of course, women continue to far outweigh men in such areas as clerical and service occupations, just as men continue to dominate craft, repair, and construction jobs. Still, over the past decade, women have racked up significant gains in a wide range of traditionally male-dominated jobs from managers in such areas as finance, purchasing, and marketing to architects, physicians, lawyers, economists, musicians, and college teachers. Among the clergy, 1 out of 10 is now a woman, for example, as is 1 out of 6 law-enforcement officers and 1 out of 4 professional athletes.

By contrast, men posted relatively few gains in predominantly female occupations. Those where their share has risen--such as sales clerks, order clerks, waiters, kitchen workers, computer operators, health aides, and sewing-machine operators--seem clustered toward the lower end of the earnings spectrum.



CHART: U.S. Women Cross the Occupational Divide


Updated Oct. 23, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1997, Bloomberg L.P.
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