Despite the 50-year anniversary of the Equal Pay Act this year, women continue to earn less than men across most job functions. In fact, according to new numbers released in February, the gender wage gap widened by slightly more than a percentage point in 2012—back to levels last seen in 2005. Across the economy, women now earn 81 cents for every dollar earned by men. Meanwhile, economists say wage growth has stagnated for all workers in the last decade, and particularly so for women. The hourly pay of young, female college graduates dropped 8.5% between 2000 and 2011, compared to 1.6% for men.
So which are the jobs that pay women the most? To find out, Forbes analyzed the median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers in 2012, detailed by occupation and gender and tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It turns out that jobs in health care, business and computer science rise to the top.
At No. 1, pharmacist is the best-paying job for women and one of the most equal. Women pharmacists earn a median of $1,871 a week or approximately $98,000 a year. They comprise slightly more than half (52%) of all pharmacists and earn 100% as much as their male counterparts—making it one of just a handful of jobs able to claim perfect gender equality. It’s also in demand, growing at a faster-than-average rate of 25% and projected to add 70,000 jobs between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS.
“There’s been some real improvement for women relative to men in health care,” says economist Gregory DeFrietas, director of the Labor Studies Center at Hofstra University in New York. “The gender wage gap for pharmacists narrowed significantly.”
On the latest list of the 20 best-paying jobs for women, nine are in health care, including nurse practitioners (No. 4), occupational therapists (No. 12), and medical and health services managers (No. 13). Health care is the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy and is dominated by women. Interestingly, however, women comprise only 35% of physicians and surgeons (No. 6) and make just 68% as much as their male counterparts, according to this data set.
Why do we still see such a cavernous wage gap among physicians? Men tend to pursue the higher-paying specialties like brain and heart surgery, says David Lewin, a UCLA management professor and head of Berkeley Research Group’s Labor and Employment practice. On the other hand, women tend toward lower-paying specialties like pediatrics and general practice, and they often make further trade-offs in pay for more flexibility, he says.
New to the list this year is physician assistant, debuting at No. 7. Typically, physician assistants hold the equivalent of a master’s degree and practice medicine under the supervision of physicians and surgeons. It’s expected to be one of the fastest-growing jobs through 2020, and women comprise 69% of the occupation and earn a median of $1,364 a week. With increasing demands on physicians’ attention—processing patients, filling out claim forms and dealing with changing regulations—physician assistants take on many of the routine or administrative tasks, says Lewin.
The second best-paying job for women is chief executive, which earns them a median of $1,730 a week or about $90,000 a year. While women have made significant progress in business over the last few decades, they are only about a quarter of all chief executives and earn just 76% as much as men with the title. The wage gap seems largely due to differences in company type and partially due to remaining discrimination.
“With executive compensation, you would expect the biggest factor to be company performance, but it’s actually the size of the company and verticality,” says Lewin. “If women really want to make it to the top, they tend to go to smaller businesses and nonprofits.”
Furthermore, economist DeFrietas says women continue to experience lower advancement rates, which substantially impacts pay. It may be a combination of ineffective government family leave and child-care policies, less willingness to individually assert themselves, and employer discrimination. “Studies show that young women heard the message and are now more likely to ask for raises,” says DeFrietas. “But they are less likely to get them, and when they do get them, they tend to be smaller. When employers have the attitude that women will take more time [to raise kids] it might be reflected in limited promotional and wage increases.”
Although they are underrepresented in the field, computer science jobs are also among the best-paying for women. Female computer and information systems managers (No. 5) earn a median of $1,527 a week; software developers (No. 8) earn $1,362 a week; computer systems analysts (No. 10) earn $1,254 a week; and computer programmers (No. 18) earn $1,148 a week. Because technical skills are in such high demand with limited supply, employers are willing to pay a premium for these workers. However, depending on the occupation, only about one-fifth to one-third of these jobs are currently held by women.
Other notable jobs on the top-20 list include lawyers (No. 3), human resource managers (No. 11) and psychologists (No. 17). Meanwhile, the worst-paying jobs for women are food preparation workers, laundry and dry-cleaning workers, cashiers, child-care workers, and maids and housekeepers, which earn less than $400 a week.