Best-paying jobs for women

Over the past three decades women’s median income has increased 63%, and now more than a third of working wives earn more than their husbands. It’s no surprise when, although they were once discouraged from pursuing higher education, women now surpass men in achievement of bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Across sectors, women continue earning only 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, but more and more they are landing high-paying professional jobs and narrowing the gap. An analysis of the median weekly earnings of full-time American workers in 2011 by occupation and gender, as tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows the top 20 jobs where women are earning the most. All require some college and most are concentrated in health care, science and technology, and business fields.

At No. 1, pharmacist is the best-paying job for women, where they earn a median of $1,898 a week or approximately $99,000 a year. Women comprise more than half (56%) of all pharmacists and earn nearly as a much as men in the job. Moreover, the field offers more than 10,000 annual openings and is expected to grow 25% by 2020.

“Pharmacy is known for paying very well straight out of school and all the way through your career,” says Katie Bardaro, lead economist at compensation research firm PayScale. “It’s a very good return on investment in terms of money and time spent on education.”

While pharmacists must achieve a four-year professional degree and pass licensing exams, physicians and surgeons attend four years of medical school and complete three to eight years of internship and residency. Yet, for women, doctor comes in as the fourth highest paying job—behind pharmacists, lawyers (No. 2) and computer and information systems managers (No. 3)—with median weekly earnings of $1,527 or about $79,000 a year. They also earn 21% less than male doctors.

Bardaro explains that physicians face a much wider range of specialty and practice type. Men trend toward high-risk, high-paying areas like plastic and brain surgery, she says, while women are more likely to move into lower-paying specialties like general practice and pediatrics.

Even so, health-care jobs feature some of the best salaries, highest female representation and figure prominently on this list. Female nurse practitioners (No. 6) earn a median of $1,432 a week and hold 85% of positions. Women are also the majority of psychologists (No. 10), physical therapists (No. 12), occupational therapists (No. 13) and medical and health services managers (No. 16), and all earn more than $60,000 a year.

“It pays to be in a field that’s female-dominated,” says Caren Goldberg, a management professor at American University’s business school in Washington, D.C., who studies gender and pay, “because in a large group of women you’re less likely to be seen as a ‘typical’ female and thus less likely to experience discrimination.”

The STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and math—also feature strong projected growth, high salaries and narrower gender wage gaps, but women are less likely to pursue them. Female software developers (No. 7) earn a median of $1,388 a week, and female computer programmers (No. 11) earn $1,238. Yet women make up just 18% and 20%, respectively, of these workers.

“STEM fields offer a lot of job opportunities, and we should encourage more women to move into them,” says Bardaro. She speculates that extremely male-dominated fields, like technology, feel less welcoming and open to women. “It’s hard to go against the grain.”

Traditionally male leadership positions have also been tougher for women to catch up in. Chief executive (No. 5) is one of the top-paying jobs for women, with median weekly earnings of $1,464, or about $76,000 a year. However, women hold just a quarter of these titles and earn 31% less than their male peers—a difference of $658 each week. Similarly, female marketing and sales managers (No. 19) make 32% less than men in the job.

In Bardaro’s research into these occupations, even when factors like education, experience, location, industry and firm size are considered there remains a large wage gap that is likely only explained by discrimination. “When there’s a boys club, women don’t have strength in numbers,” she says. “Women are also known for being less successful at salary negotiations, and that gets even more pronounced as you move up the ladder.”

The good news, says Bardaro, is women’s high educational attainment has dramatically shifted the jobs and salaries available to them. “It takes time to see major change, but I think we’re finally seeing the fruits of our mothers’ labor.”

Here's a list of the best-paying jobs for women:

No. 1: Pharmacists
Median weekly earnings: $1,898
Approximate median yearly earnings: $99,000
Women as percentage of the profession: 56%
Earnings as percentage of men's earnings: 95%

No. 2: Lawyers
Median weekly earnings: $1,631
Approximate median yearly earnings: $85,000
Women as percentage of the profession: 34%
Earnings as percentage of men's earnings: 87%

No. 3: Computer and Information Systems Managers
Median weekly earnings: $1,543
Approximate median yearly earnings: $80,000
Women as percentage of the profession: 26%
Earnings as percentage of men's earnings: 97%

No. 4: Physicians and Surgeons
Median weekly earnings: $1,527
Approximate median yearly earnings: $79,000
Women as percentage of the profession: 36%
Earnings as percentage of men's earnings: 79%

No. 5: Chief Executives
Median weekly earnings: $1,464
Approximate median yearly earnings: $76,000
Women as percentage of the profession: 25%
Earnings as percentage of men's earnings: 69%

No. 6: Nurse Practitioners
Median weekly earnings: $1,432
Approximate median yearly earnings: $74,000
Women as percentage of the profession: 85%
Earnings as percentage of men's earnings: data not available

No. 7: Software Developers*
Median weekly earnings: $1,388
Approximate median yearly earnings: $72,000
Women as percentage of the profession: 18%
Earnings as percentage of men's earnings: 86%
*Applications and systems software

No. 8: Operations Research Analysts
Median weekly earnings: $1,326
Approximate median yearly earnings: $69,000
Women as percentage of the profession: 44%
Earnings as percentage of men's earnings: 105%

No. 9: Human Resources Managers
Median weekly earnings: $1,273
Approximate median yearly earnings: $66,000
Women as percentage of the profession: 72%
Earnings as percentage of men's earnings: 86%

No. 10: Psychologists
Median weekly earnings: $1,244
Approximate median yearly earnings: $65,000
Women as percentage of the profession: 71%
Earnings as percentage of men's earnings: data not available

Click here to see the rest of the Top 20 Best-Paying Jobs for Women in 2012

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