HomeLearning CenterWhat Barbie Can Teach Us About the Gender Wage Gap

What Barbie Can Teach Us About the Gender Wage Gap

Originally published by RepresentWomen for Ms. Magazine

Despite decades of efforts to boost women’s representation throughout the U.S. economy, women still face a pay gap in nearly every occupation.

Only 22 percent of astronomers and 39 percent of lawyers are women, highlighting that few women have access to high-paying jobs.

The typical woman working full time, year-round earns 84 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts; and for all women workers, regardless of hours or weeks worked, that figure dips to 77 cents. One of the core drivers behind this gender wage gap is occupational segregation, by which women—most acutely, Black women and Latinas—are overrepresented in low-paid work, while men are overrepresented in high-paid work. This is the result of cultural norms and biases about the role of different groups of workers and policy choices.

In fact, many of the same jobs represented by Barbies over the past few decades, such as lawyers, remain male dominated. (see Figure 1) Notably, when looking at the 10 highest-paying occupations—defined by dollar terms—in the United States, white men account for at least half of all workers. By contrast, among the 10 lowest-paying occupation, women and men of color account for, at a minimum, more than half of workers. Even when men and women are equally represented in an occupation, such as actors, or when women are overrepresented, such as writers and authors, they likely experience a pay gap. 

But policymakers have a critical role to play in this by creating pathways for more women to enter and stay in male-dominated occupations, including through investing in child care, creating pathways into STEM education, and ensuring these jobs are safe and free from harassment. Additionally, lawmakers must invest in work where women are overrepresented by raising the minimum wage and providing universal access to family and medical leave. Only then can we take a meaningful step toward closing the gender wage gap.

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