Watercooler: More Women Fill High-Skilled Positions Than Ever Before


There’s a rising demand for skilled workers in the U.S., and women are filling many of the positions that require these complex skill sets, from analytical skills to mathematics and programming, to science. This trend reflects a long-term pattern since 1980, when more women than men started entering the workforce. 

According to data collected by the Pew Research Center, in 2018 women held 52 percent of all jobs that required social or fundamental skills, including teachers, counselors and legal workers; a 12-percent jump from 1980. The presence of women in fields requiring social skills increased 111 percent since 1980, and fundamental skills saw a 104-percent increase. Conversely, women have also been filling more positions that rely on analytical skills, like accounting and dentistry, and currently make up 42 percent of the workforce in these industries; a 15-percent increase from 1980. Between 1980 and 2018, the presence of women in fields requiring analytical skills grew 92 percent. Also a positive, the number of jobs that seek out applicants with fundamental skills grew by more than 60 percent, and although the number of positions calling for analytical skills grew by just 20 percent, the number of related jobs have increased to include new professions, such as database architect, video game designer and informatics nurse specialist. 

With more women filling high-skill positions, there has been a significant increase in wages since 1980 as well, further lowering the wage gap. Between 1980 and 2018, women’s average hourly wage grew 45 percent from $15 to $22, while men’s wages grew 14 percent from $23 to $26. Wages grew even more (58 percent) for women in fields that require analytical skills.

But despite the marked growth, there is still much room for improvement. Pew notes the existing wage gap is the result of myriad factors, including education and work experience, skill set, union membership, hours worked, industry and position, along with parenthood and caregiver responsibilities, discrimination and differences in professional networks. Another study of women in the workplace conducted in 2019 by McKinsey and Co. collected data from nearly 600 companies and more than 250,000 survey participants and found that women have seen a 24-percent increase in C-suite representation since 2015, but remain underrepresented in all levels across all industries. 

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Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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