Closing the Wage Gap: Women Aim for Welding and Mechanics Jobs

March 25, 2016
Study: Competing for industrial jobs that have been traditionally held by men may help women increase their incomes more than acquiring more education.

Women would earn more and narrow the gender pay gap if they got jobs now dominated by men in fast-growing fields such as information technology, welding or truck mechanics, according to a new study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

The study, which examined 473 occupations, found women in only about one-third of so-called middle-skill positions that pay at least $35,000 a year, even though they dominate in the category. About 80% of those women make less than $30,000 a year. Middle-skill jobs typically require some training after high school but no college degree.

“Women are being excluded from higher-paying middle-skill jobs where they’d have a chance to earn a living wage,” said Ariane Hegewisch, IWPR’s program director for employment and earnings and the lead author of the study. “Yet employers lack enough qualified workers to fill demand for some of these fast-growing better jobs.”

Embed from Getty Images

HERFORD, GERMANY - JULY 08: Female precision machinist with welding helmet in the production of Wemhoener Surface Technologies GmbH & Co KG on July 08, 2014, in Herford, Germany. Wemhoener Surface Technologies produces short-cycle presses for the laminate industry. (Photo by Ute Grabowsky/Photothek via Getty Images)***Local Caption***

In manufacturing, where more than 500,000 job openings are expected over the next decade, just 7% of workers are women, according to an IWPR analysis of government data. In transportation, distribution and logistics, where as many as 1.3 million jobs are anticipated, 9% are women; in IT, where about 240,000 openings are forecast, 27% are women.

Arm-Hand Steadiness

The study found that many in lower-paying female-dominated jobs already have some or most of the skills necessary for male-dominated roles. Library assistants, 80% of whom are women, earn about $24,000 a year less than IT support specialists, 75% of whom are men. Yet both jobs require knowledge of computer software, hardware and databases and customer contact, the report said.

Similarly, women who now fill manufacturing jobs as packaging and filling machine operators earn roughly $26,000 a year. They could, with additional training, compete for positions as welders, which pay a median $39,000 a year. Both jobs require arm-hand steadiness, manual dexterity and control precision.

“We’ve long heard about women getting paid less for the same jobs but this study shows them getting paid less for similar skills,” said Chauncy Lennon, head of Workforce Initiatives at JPMorgan Chase & Co., which supported the study as part of its $250 million, five-year New Skills at Work program. “Increasing access to new kinds of skills training for women would go a long way in tackling their under-representation in good manufacturing, IT and transportation jobs.”

Overall, women’s median annual earnings have remained at about 20% below those of men for the past decade, government data show. The different jobs men and women hold account for more than half of this pay gap, according to researchers at Cornell University.

If 10% of women in middle-skill jobs took male-dominated jobs, their median earnings could increase by more than 50% from about $37,000 to about $56,000, according to the IWPR analysis.

Competing for jobs that have been traditionally held by men may help women increase their incomes more than acquiring more education.

“Women need to be strategic about the skills they develop and where they apply them,” said JP Morgan’s Lennon.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)