Thursday, January 9, 2014

What’s My Line? The Occupations of Utah Women

Lecia Parks Langston, Senior Economist 

If Bob Dylan were to write a song about female occupational segregation in Utah, its title might be “The Times They Aren’t a-Changin’.” Okay, that’s more than a little harsh. Notable numbers of women have moved into several nontraditional occupations over the past fifty years. For example, back in 1960 only 4 percent of Utah physicians and surgeons were women compared to 26 percent today. However, women account for about the same share of clerical employment now as they did in 1960. Plus, few Utah women have moved into the blue-collar occupations that have traditionally employed men. Today only 1 percent of Utah’s carpenters are women. Moreover, some occupations (such as elementary/secondary school teachers) have shown even greater female density over time.

Overall occupational changes for women have evolved relatively slow. That’s not surprising given that women now make up almost 45 percent of the Utah labor force. Many women must make career changes and choices to modify the overall occupational structure. For the most part, women have tended to move into nontraditional careers requiring a bachelor’s degree or above faster than into occupations requiring less schooling.


The Census Bureau’s relatively-recent release of Equal Employment Opportunity data sets from the American Community Survey (2006-2010 averages) provide an evaluation of not only how gender occupational segregation has changed since 2000, but also how Utah compares to the broader United States.

In Utah, major occupations maintaining high concentrations of female workers in 2006-2010 include health care support (lower-skilled health care positions, 84 percent), personal care/service (79 percent), office/administrative (71 percent) and education/training/library (70 percent) occupations. Utah women are notably lacking in construction/extraction (2 percent), installation/maintenance/repair (4 percent), architecture/engineering (12 percent) and transportation/moving (17 percent) occupations. Females make up roughly half of Utah employment in business/financial operations (48 percent), sales/related (47 percent) and arts/design/entertainment/sports/media (44 percent) occupations.

When the female employment shares of major occupational groups for 2000 and 2006-2010 are compared, changes proved marginal. Occupations where Utah women gained an employment share of 2 percentage points or more include protective services (such as police and firefighters), food preparation and serving, and transportation moving occupations. Major occupations where Utah women lost employment share include business and financial operations, community/social services, arts/design/entertainment/sports/media, health care practitioners/technical, personal/care and service, office and administrative (clerical), farming/fishing/forestry and production occupations. Interestingly, these occupations encompass a variety of educational requirements.

 In many ways, the occupations of Utah women mirror the occupations of U.S. women. However, some noteworthy differences do bubble to the surface. While Utah women make up 44 percent of the state’s workforce, U.S. women comprise 47 percent of the national workforce. Therefore, all other things being equal, we would expect U.S. women to show a higher share of employment in each major occupational group than Utah women.

Occupations where Utah women comprise a much smaller share of employment than U.S. women include management, business/financial, computer/mathematical, life/physical/social science, community/social services, legal, healthcare practitioners/technical. Notice a pattern? Utah women are much less likely to be employed in occupations requiring higher education than are U.S. women. These occupations also tend to be among the highest paying occupations.

Utah women show a larger share of occupational employment than U.S. women in protective services, food preparation/serving and personal care/service occupations. Food preparation and personal care positions typically pay noticeably lower-than-average wages. The comparative shortage of Utah women in higher-paying occupations undoubtedly contributes to its higher-than-average male/female wage gap.

Let’s get down to details. Detailed occupations where Utah women comprise at least 90 percent of employment include several healthcare-related occupations: occupational therapy assistants, medical transcriptionists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, dieticians/nutritionists and medical assistants. Utah females also account for more than 90 percent of employment in two occupations which relate to the care of younger children—preschool/kindergarten teachers and childcare workers. Other occupations showing 90-percent or more female employment include cosmetologists, other personal care workers, teacher assistants, tailors, billing clerks and proofreaders. This roster closely mirrors the 2000 Census list of occupations with 90-percent or greater female employment.

On the flip side of the coin, most of the Utah occupations maintaining female employment below 10 percent fall into three basic categories: construction, mechanics and transportation workers (drivers and pilots). In addition, fewer than 8 percent of network administrators are female.

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