Step aside, guys. Women are moving up the payroll. According to a March “Women at Work” report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the gender wage gap continues to narrow. Women earned 81 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2010, up from 76 cents in 2000. Moreover, recent reports suggest that young urban women now earn 8 percent more than male peers, likely due to higher college graduation rates.
The fact remains, however, that men still earn more in almost every U.S. occupation — except in a telling few. An analysis of 2009 median weekly earnings for full-time workers, collected by the BLS, reveals at least 15 jobs where women earn slightly more than male colleagues.
Perhaps most surprising, women out-earn men in several male-dominated construction jobs. Female construction laborers, construction supervisors, maintenance painters, and aircraft and vehicle mechanics earn slightly above the median earnings for both sexes — despite holding just 3 percent of these jobs.
“Researchers have found that both sexes fare better when they are in the minority,” says Caren Goldberg, a management professor at American University’s business school in Washington, D.C. “Women who choose male-dominated jobs are likely perceived as “atypical” or less consistent with the stereotypes associated with women, which are also associated with lower-paying jobs.”
Connecticut College economics professor Candace Howes further conjectures that the few women who enter construction and mechanical jobs are likely highly skilled and more concentrated in union jobs. “It was unionization that provided women access to these male-dominated jobs, and on average those wages are higher [than non-union jobs],” says Howes.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, women also make more in a few female-dominated education and healthcare jobs. Female teacher assistants earn 105 percent as much as male peers. Women are 92 percent of the field and earn a median of $474 a week, compared to men’s $453. Women also earn more than men in higher paying jobs like occupational therapists, dieticians and nutritionists, and life, physical, social science and health technicians.
Because women are the majority of workers in these fields, Howes says more women may have achieved higher wages due to seniority.
At the same time, there is some evidence that men are discriminated against in female-dominated jobs. A 2010 study found that men were less likely to be called for an interview in fields with 65 percent or more female workers, an attitude which may be reflected in wages. Employment researcher Laurence Shatkin, author of 2011 Career Plan, says that discrimination or feelings of not fitting in could cause higher turnover rates among men in these jobs, which wouldn’t allow them to gain seniority and would negatively affect wages.
Women also out-earned men in a few gender-balanced jobs. Although men are 48 percent of all dining room attendants and bartender helpers, women earn 111 percent more. Men in this job earn a median of $40 less than women each week, which adds up to a yearly loss of $2,000. Shatkin guesses that most of the difference is due to women receiving bigger tips.
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Baking, too, pays well for women. Female bakers earn 104 percent more than male bakers, with $466 in median weekly earnings, compared to men’s $448. Although baking might be considered a “feminine” field, men slightly out-number women, as 53 percent of all bakers. Shatkin says that baking is essentially a production job with odd hours. Women may have more flexibility to work night or early-morning shifts that would be higher paying, he says.
In a preview of 2010 earnings data, the BLS showcased three additional jobs where women earn more than men. Female food preparation and serving workers earn 112.1 percent, bill and account collectors earn 109.5 percent and stock clerks and order fillers earn 105.1 percent as much as men in those jobs.
Ultimately, men remain the top earners in America, on average and by occupation. Men also hold the majority of leadership positions. Women are just 3 percent of chief executives at the largest 1000 U.S. companies.
Despite some signs of discrimination, both men and women generally fare better in terms of salary and advancement in “mismatched” fields, like construction for women and education administration for men (where they earn 31 percent more than women). Shatkin says he’s beginning to see more men migrate into female-typed fields like healthcare and education because “that’s where the jobs are.” Similarly, women are moving into more financial and professional jobs, like pharmacy and financial management. If the trend continues, wages may begin to equalize.
© 2012 Forbes.com