10 Worst Occupations for Equal Pay

Last Tuesday was Equal Pay Day: a time when Americans acknowledge that the wage gap hasn't really budged for two decades, get depressed, come up with brilliant theories about why, get inspired, and then move on with the rest of the year -- another year adding up to a lifetime when the average college-educated woman will earn a total $1.2 million less than the average college-educated man, according to economist Evelyn Murphy, president of The Wage Project.

There are lots of curious, and depressing, facts about the pay gap:
  • It gets worse as you get older.
  • It's mostly non-existent if you never get married.
  • It's particularly bad for Asian women.
  • It's particularly, particularly wide in the financial industry.
  • And it's particularly, particularly, particularly bad when it comes to bonuses.

But for women who really want to get into a career where the guy at the next cubicle doesn't earn $20,000 a year more than they, one piece of advice: Don't work for commission.The financial website NerdScholar looked through Labor Department data to pull out the occupations where the pay gap is the most jarring (full chart below). The earnings data excluded annual bonuses, but didn't exclude regularly paid commissions, and commission-centric jobs filled the top 10.

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In weekly earnings, male financial services sales agents earned almost twice as much as their female counterparts (an average of $66,000 a year compared to $34,900 a year). Among loan officers (many of whom are paid by commission), men earn $70,000 a year, while women earn $43,000 a year. Female real estate agents earn on average just 68 percent of what their male colleagues do ($37,900 to $52,000).

This gap is true from the get-go. New female graduates of the country's most prestigious business schools suffered a far more significant wage penalty if they became insurance agents, personal advisers, and securities sales agents, according to a Bloomberg analysis of 2010 census data, earning between 55 and 62 cents for every man's dollar.

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Women's Best Shots At Parity Are In Low-Skill, Low-Paying Jobs: If women want a career with similar pay to men, then their best bets are as a receptionist, cashier, food preparation worker or order filler. "The wage gap is much lower in low wage occupations than in high wage occupations, because in low wage occupations things are really bad for everybody, but usually worse for women," says Ariane Hegewisch, study director of the Institute for Women's Policy Research. "And in big wage occupations occupations things are better everybody, but much better for men."

The Exceptions Are: Women earn a decent salary that's reasonably close to their male colleagues' in IT careers (female computer programmers earn 93 percent of what their male counterparts do, and female computer support specialists actually earn more, according to the Labor Department).

But commission-based jobs often have great earning-potential. So why aren't women fulfilling it like their male colleagues? Experts suggest a couple of factors:

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1. Men Sell More Expensive Stuff: "You can't even say car salesperson, you must say car salesman," points out Hegewisch. "And there are other higher-budget items where women are really underrepresented -- televisions, computers, the tech stuff." And this can translate into financial agent jobs too, Hegewisch explains, with women given lower-prospect clients, or put into departments with lower-value goods to sell. This may not be out of explicit discrimination, she says. The logic could just be that there are already more women staffing those departments, and "women will get on better with other women."

2. Duh, There Still Is Discrimination: The U.S. has come a long way since 1992, when State Farm Insurance Companies paid out $157 million to over 800 women who said they were denied jobs as agents -- at the time, the largest civil rights case settlement in history. But evidence hints that a boys' club still holds sway, if more subtly. In February, six female sales representatives sued Daiichi Sankyo, a major drugmaker, claiming that female agents were paid less, promoted more slowly and, if pregnant, were sometimes called "babymakers" and forced to attend meetings in smoke-filled bars.

3. Men Tend To Work Longer Hours: Men do work more hours than women on average, with a quarter of men working 41 or more hours a week, compared with 14 percent of women, according to Department of Labor data.

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