Workforce Equality Still a Challenge for Women in U.S., Idaho

Despite the 95 years since the 19th Amendment was passed granting women the right to vote and hold elected office in the United States, women still continue to fight for equality in the workforce.

Women have realized a 20 percent gain in workforce participation and educational attainment over the past 50 years, but a large proportion of working women in traditional occupations are still paid less than their male counterparts, according to a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau.

There were 348,000 women employed or seeking employment in Idaho during 2014, slightly less than 56 percent of the total population of working age Idaho women. Almost half worked one of 25 occupations – about 2 percent of all occupations identified by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics., with nearly half of those in occupations traditionally held by women.

Women's chart 1Registered nurse is third most abundant occupation for women in Idaho and the nation – one of the best paying and most in-demand occupations in the economy today. Registered nurse is also the second highest ranking Idaho hot job, which are jobs most in demand, greatest in abundance and that pay the highest median wage. Seven of the top 10 hot Idaho jobs are dominated by health care occupations, also dominated by women. Women make up 90 percent or more of dental hygienist, nurse practitioner and registered nurse jobs. These occupations pay among the highest wages in the state, with a median hourly wage of $34.70 for dental hygienists and $43.89 for nurse practitioners. However, of the 16,000 women working the top 10 hot job occupations, only 5,000 work in nine occupations other than registered nurses.

Women's chart 2Challenges for women are still apparent even in the analysis of hot jobs. Women software developers make up 20 percent of that occupation in Idaho and only 3 percent or less in the mechanical and electrical vocations. This gap for women in nontraditional occupations and continued dominance in traditional occupations highlights the forces of culture and gender roles that are slow to change and still heavily influence opportunities and barriers for women. These barriers include a sense of isolation in male-dominated occupations, lack of female role models for these occupations, limited information on education and training opportunities for women, and sexual harassment issues according to 2010 research from WOWonline.org.

Pay parity with men is an additional challenge of equality for women in the workplace. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, pay for women in 1963 was 41.1 percent below pay for men in the same occupation. By 2013, that gap had shrunk to 21.7 percent. When adjusted to 2013 dollars the $39,157 per year women earned on average in 2013 was 1.6 percent below the $39,801 annual average men made in 1963. While the average improvement per year has been about 0.4 percent, from 2003 to 2013 the change decelerated to a 0.2 percent average per year reduction. Obstacles to pay equity for women include stymied or delayed career advancement when having children and continued gender discrimination. Gender pay gap data is not available by occupation for the state of Idaho, but an analysis by the American Association of University Women ranks Idaho at 39 for overall pay gap, with women’s median annual earnings 24 percent lower than men; the national earning gap was 22 percent lower.

Women continue to fight for improving workforce equality, and there is data that provides hope for further improvement. Where women have been making headway in nontraditional occupations, they tend to be better paid than women working in traditional ones, even though wages tend to still be lower than males in the same occupations. These women also serve as role models for others to be employed in these nontraditional jobs. Another development indicating improvement is that the pay for millennial women through 2013 is near parity with millennial males, according to the Pew Research Center, 2013. However, millennial women are well aware of the obstacles before them and without mitigating the barriers before them, maintaining this parity may be difficult to impossible.

Dan Cravens,
regional economist

Craig.Shaul@labor.idaho.gov,
research analyst, supervisor
(208) 332-3570 ext. 3201