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Examining the North Carolina Gender Pay Gap by Occupational Group

As we commemorate Equal Pay Day on March 12th, 2024, our focus turns to the enduring issue of wage disparity between men and women. Our latest analysis examines the wage divide across occupational groups in North Carolina.

Author: Maggie Smith

In honor of Equal Pay Day on March 12th, 2024, we return to the issue of the gender pay gap in North Carolina. A previous analysis indicated a slight improvement of the gender pay gap in North Carolina from 2019-2022, although wage gains varied across different industries. Shifting from an industry view to an occupational perspective, this article examines the disparities in compensation between men and women within occupational groups in North Carolina.

Analysis of occupational groups highlights impact of both pay inequities and composition on the gender pay gap

In 2022, the earnings ratio between women and men varied significantly across different occupational groups, as illustrated in Figure 1. In certain fields, women's earnings approached or even exceeded those of men, with one notable instance in Farming where women's median earnings of $33,638 surpassed men's $29,664, amounting to 113% of men's earnings. However, this scenario was an exception, as women earned less than men across all other occupational groups. The most pronounced gap was observed in Legal occupations, where women earned just 49% of what men did, with respective earnings of $71,6 43 and $146,57.

Figure 1. Women Earn Less Than Men in Every Occupational Group Except One

A gender pay gap may exist across occupational groups for several reasons. One obvious explanation could be that men and women are not being paid the same for the same work. For instance, within the Legal Occupations group, male lawyers or paralegals might be paid more than women in the same profession. However, the makeup of these occupations (occupational composition) could also explain the difference. For example, the Legal group includes higher paying occupations like lawyers and judges as well as lower paid professionals like paralegals and legal assistants. If women are primarily employed in the lower wage occupations, this will reduce the overall median earnings for women in that occupational group.[1] The U.S. Census Bureau offers only state-level median wage data for broad occupational groups, limiting a detailed analysis for North Carolina. However, detailed occupational data at the national-level suggests that both of these factors are influential.

Analysis of national data shows that women earned less than men in 96% of individual occupations. Second, there was a negative correlation between women’s share of employment and median wage in Legal (r= -0.93) and Healthcare Diagnosing (r= -0.73) groups, indicating a larger concentration of women’s employment in lower paying occupations within the broad occupational groups. This pattern generally persisted across occupational groups comprising both low and high-paying jobs, though the correlation was not as strong. Presuming that national trends apply to individual states, these are two likely factors contributing to the gender wage gap across occupational groups in North Carolina.

What can be done to promote greater equity?

This study highlights the differences in pay between men and women across occupational groups in North Carolina. The gender pay gap exists due to a variety of factors, including occupational segregation, where women are often found in lower-paying professions, and the devaluation of work typically associated with women. Educational attainment and field of study choices impact earnings, but disparities persist even among individuals with similar qualifications. Moreover, societal norms and unconscious biases can contribute to differences in career choice and wage negotiation. Additionally, the motherhood wage penalty demonstrates how parental responsibilities disproportionately affect women's earnings. These multifaceted and interrelated factors collectively contribute to the ongoing issue of the gender pay gap.

To address the gender pay gap, a multi-pronged approach is essential. Possible initiatives include promoting gender diversity in all occupational fields, particularly in high-paying industries, and encouraging equal representation in leadership roles. Education and awareness programs can challenge societal norms and reduce unconscious biases that influence career choices and workplace dynamics. Transparent salary practices and regular pay audits can help identify and rectify disparities. Furthermore, targeted efforts to elevate the value and compensation of traditionally female-dominated professions can contribute to closing the wage gap. Finally, supporting policies that enhance work-life balance, such as parental leave and flexible work arrangements, can help mitigate the motherhood wage penalty. These initiatives, coupled with a commitment to equitable treatment and opportunities for all genders, are important steps toward narrowing the gender pay gap.


[1] There may be additional intra-occupational differences that may contribute to the gap as well – think of the pay differences between corporate lawyers in an international firm vs public defenders or lawyers working for a non-profit. However, these intra-occupational differences are difficult to assess even nationally.

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