Most Low-Wage Workers Are Women But They Still Make Less Than Men


Women hold three-quarters of the jobs in the 10 largest low-wage occupations, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), despite the fact that they are 47 percent of the overall workforce. Women of color are also overrepresented, making up 37 percent of these jobs despite being just 16 percent of the workforce. This trend is likely to get worse, as women’s share of low-wage jobs added during the recovery has been twice that of men’s.

To add insult to injury, women still make less than men in these jobs even though they hold the majority of them. On average, women in these occupations make just 90.4 percent of what their male coworkers make each week.

The jobs, which all pay less than $10.10 an hour at the median, include childcare workers, home health aides, maids and housekeepers, personal care aides, cashiers, waiters, food prep workers, bartenders, and those who package food by hand.

Many people assume that the typical low-wage worker is a teenager looking to make some extra money or get a first job before moving on to other work, but many are older workers who are supporting their families. NWLC’s analysis notes that a quarter of the workers in these jobs are mothers with children under 18, even though they are just 16 percent of the rest of the workforce. In fact, of those who would be impacted by raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, over half are women and nearly a third have children. Nearly 90 percent are out of their teenage years and their average age is 35.

Given women’s disproportionate representation in jobs toward the bottom of the wage scale, lifting those wages would give them a big boost and also go a long way toward closing the gap between women’s earnings and men’s earnings. On the whole, women who work full time, year round make just 77 percent of what similar men make. But most states that have a higher wage also have a narrower gap.

Other steps would have to be taken to ensure equal pay, however, given that there is already a wage gap among these poorly paid workers. Women also make less than men in nearly every occupation there is, and many of the jobs that have the biggest gaps in earnings are paid pretty well, such as personal financial advisers, insurance salespeople, and even chief executives.