The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on women's progress in the workplace: More than one million women are still missing from the labor force, according to recent research from the National Women's Law Center, which notes that women of color along with those in low-wage and part-time occupations have been hurt the most.
Experts expect the gender pay gap to widen because of the economic turmoil spurred by Covid-19. And although women face a persistent pay gap in nearly every occupation, a new report from Payscale shows that the gap is wider in some industries than others.
Payscale collected salary information from more than 933,000 Americans between January 2020 and January 2022 to determine which industries have the most significant income disparities between men and women.
Among the 15 industries included in the report, Payscale found that the uncontrolled pay gap, which measures the median salary for all men and women in a given field, is largest in five industries. The information below shows how much women earn for each dollar a man makes.
Industries with the largest gender pay gaps:
- Finance & Insurance (77 cents)
- Agencies & Consultancies (83 cents)
- Health care (86 cents)
- Transportation & Warehousing (87 cents)
- Nonprofits (88 cents)
It might come as a surprise that most of these industries have a higher percentage of working women than men. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), women make up about 76% of health-care workers in the U.S., and 65% of non-profit workers, for example.
Ruth Thomas, a pay equity strategist at Payscale, points to several factors widening the gap in these industries, including lower representation of women in higher-paid roles and prevalent discrimination tied to gender stereotypes about women's proficiency in math and science.
Even when women pursue an advanced degree, the pay gap persists, and in some cases, widens. Payscale found that the largest uncontrolled pay gap is for women with MBAs, who take home 76 cents for every dollar a man with an MBA makes. Women with a law degree see the smallest uncontrolled gender pay gap, however, earning 89 cents for every dollar earned by men with a law degree.
Thomas explains that this difference exists because the legal sector has a more rigid, fixed pay structure compared to finance, which determines bonuses on a more "discretionary basis," that could favor men who are more likely to work longer hours and push for a raise.
Payscale also calculated the "controlled pay gap" for each industry, which takes into account the median salaries for men and women with the same job title and qualifications. The report notes that even if the controlled gender pay gap disappeared, however, the uncontrolled pay gap would persist as high-paid jobs are still more accessible to men than women.
The industries with the smallest uncontrolled pay gaps tend to have more women in senior management and offer flexible work arrangements, Thomas notes, which can help women balance child care and caregiving responsibilities.
Industries with the smallest gender pay gaps:
- Arts, Entertainment & Recreation (96 cents)
- Real Estate & Rental/Leasing (94 cents)
- Construction (91 cents)
- Technology (90 cents)
- Education (89 cents)
"One of the arguments we often hear is that the pay gap exists because of women's career choices," Thomas says. "But I would question whether those are actual choices, or choices forced on women, who are often limited to certain sectors because of a lack of paid family leave and flexibility in others."
Closing the gap isn't just about giving people equal salaries for the same job – Thomas says companies should also consider how they can improve female representation across levels, be more transparent about their pay policies and how they can better support women who lost or left their job due to the pandemic.
"One of the silver linings of the Covid-19 crisis – and the social justice movements that have emerged in recent years – is a greater focus on workplace equity," she adds. "But when we talk about workplace equity, we're talking about far more than equal pay – it's also about creating environments where everyone feels supported and has access to the same opportunities."