Labor

The Jobs Most Segregated by Gender and Race

The question is why workers have sorted into these roles -- and what would happen if the pay gaps narrowed.

Par for the course.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Silicon Valley tech companies tend to have lots of men working for them. Mostly white and Asian men -- blacks and Hispanics are pretty scarce. These disparities have been the subject of much attention and criticism, and are of course the backdrop to this month's big controversy over efforts to increase diversity at Google.

But there are occupations out there that are far more male and/or far more white than, say, software developer. A question from a colleague the other day sent me to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' most recent annual accounting of employment by occupation, gender and race or ethnicity. As is my wont, I then started making charts. They're interesting enough that I'm going to let them mostly speak for themselves, albeit with a few explanations and observations here and there.

To start, the most male-dominated occupations (and yes, I realize it's kind of pointless to do a bar chart when the range of outcomes is so narrow, but it will make more sense in subsequent charts):

Jobs Men Do

Occupations with highest percentage of male workers

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

These are all occupational categories with 50,000 or more people working in them. Data is available for smaller categories, but the BLS makes it harder to get at because it's less reliable, so I'm going to follow the agency's lead and do without actors, home appliance repairers and "entertainers and performers, sports and related workers, all other" -- all of which were just below the 50,000 threshold in 2016. Also, I've tried to stick with the exact wording used by the BLS but occasionally truncated the names of categories that seemed too long for a chart, such as "miscellaneous vehicle and mobile equipment mechanics, installers, and repairers."

Here are the female-dominated occupations:

Jobs Women Do

Occupations with the highest percentage of female workers

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

If you are one of those who believe that men are congenitally disposed to prefer working with things and women to prefer working with people, these numbers offer some support for your position. They also seem to offer support for the argument, though, that lots of women have been steered into lower-status jobs with "assistant," "clerk" or such in the title. And I guess they offer support for the notion that men are physically better suited to outdoor jobs that involve lots of heavy lifting.

In a different survey, conducted every May, the BLS collects pay data for every occupational category. It's not a perfect match to the data in the charts, 1 but it'll do. The weighted average annual wage of the 20 female-dominated occupations listed in the above chart was $43,115 in May 2016; for the male-dominated occupations, it was $48,009. Both of those were below the national average of $49,630 -- in other words, jobs that don't have such extreme gender imbalances pay better. Also, interestingly, the range of salaries in the female-dominated jobs is far greater than among the male-dominated ones: from $104,610 for nurse practitioners to $22,930 for child-care workers versus from $67,160 for electrical power-line installers and repairers to $28,360 for miscellaneous vehicle and mobile equipment mechanics.

Now let's shift to racial and ethnic categories, starting with the jobs most dominated by non-Hispanic whites. This exercise is complicated by the fact that the BLS does not publish jobs data for non-Hispanic whites; the percentages below are simply what you get when you subtract blacks, Asians and Hispanics from the total. That means they're wrong, mainly because Hispanics who also identify as black or Asian are counted twice. 2  But they're not all that wrong, and given the heavy concentration of Hispanics in certain occupations (which you'll see in just a bit), it seemed worth trying to separate them out.

Jobs White People Do

Occupations with highest percentage of non-Hispanic white workers*

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

* Percentages are approximate; actual numbers are probably slightly higher.

There are some high-status occupations here: CEOs, producers and directors, judges, lawyers. There are a few blue-collar jobs. There are several jobs involving animals. And there are several media/advertising jobs (another key news media job category -- news analysts, reporters and correspondents -- comes in at 76 percent non-Hispanic whites). Annual pay in these jobs ranges from $194,350 for CEOs to $34,580 for animal trainers, and the weighted average is $119,767 -- well more than double the national average. 

Now for the 20 occupations with the highest percentage of black workers, who overall made up 11.9 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2016:

Jobs Black People Do

Occupations with highest percentage of black or African-American workers

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

It's cinematically appropriate, I guess, that barbers are No. 1, and interesting that telemarketers come in third. But in general what stands out here is that these aren't lucrative jobs. Average annual pay is $31,130 -- just 26 percent of the average in the jobs dominated by non-Hispanic whites. Annual wages range from $49,710 for postal service mail sorters and processors to $22,710 for personal care aides.

Hispanics, who made up 16.7 percent of the workforce in 2016, are well represented in some very-low-wage occupations, too. But they're also big in construction jobs, some of which pay reasonably well.

Jobs Hispanic People Do

Occupations with highest percentage of Hispanic or Latino workers

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Weighted average pay in these occupations is $31,764, ranging from $51,770 for brickmasons, blockmasons and stonemasons to $21,260 for dishwashers.

Finally, here are the occupations with the highest percentage of Asian-Americans, who make up 6.1 percent of the workforce: 3

Jobs Asian People Do

Occupations with highest percentage of Asian workers

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Miscellaneous personal appearance workers are mostly manicurists and pedicurists. They make an average of just $26,220 a year. Gaming services workers make even less: $23,000. Meanwhile, physicians and surgeons make $210,170 and dentists $178,670. The weighted average for these 20 occupations is $104,272, but it's that wide range that stands out -- evidence of both the heights immigrants and their children can achieve in the U.S. via education and the persistence of ethnic networks that steer people into jobs with lower educational requirements.

As for the racial and ethnic occupational differences in general, I have no sweeping explanations to offer. Obviously discrimination has played a big role, but beyond that it's a hard-to-sort-out mix of history, culture, geography, education and surely a few other things. It is striking to me, though, how pronounced some of these occupational disparities -- and commensurate pay disparities -- still are. Making them less pronounced doesn't seem like the worst goal in the world.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
  1. Mainly because it's provided by employers and thus only covers those with payroll jobs, whereas the chart data comes from the Current Population Survey, which samples households.

  2. In 2012 89 percent of the Hispanics in the labor force also self-identified as white, while 5 percent identified as black and 1 percent as Asian.

  3. Again, in the charts I use the BLS nomenclature, which in this case is just "Asian."

To contact the author of this story:
Justin Fox at justinfox@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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