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Census breaks down occupations by gender, ethnicity

More women employed in secretarial work than any other job, but they make inroads in other fields.

In the 1970s, women were dancing to disco, teetering around in platform sandals. Thankfully, all that’s changed. But one thing hasn’t: More women work in secretarial field than any other.

“That has been the case since we first started collecting this data in the 1970s,” says Liana Christin Landivar, a statistician and sociologist with the Census Bureau.

Landivar says today, more than three million women work as secretaries or administrative assistants. So, has anything changed since the '50s? Daniel Hammermesh says yes. He's a labor economist at the University of Texas.

“Oh come on," he says. "It’s not 'Ozzie and Harriet.' These things are much less pronounced than when I watched 'Ozzie and Harriet' in the ‘50s."

Hammermesh says, more women are getting college degrees. He started teaching in the '70s, and his classes were two-thirds male. Now, they’re almost 50-50. Those degrees are landing women better jobs. In 1970, about 9 percent of all female workers were secretaries. That’s been cut almost in half today, to about 5 percent. The Census Bureau report says there are now more female veterinarians, doctors and dentists.

Phillip Cohen is a sociologist at the University of Maryland.  He says women did make great strides in the '70s and '80s, but things have stagnated since. “And I think one of the reasons why we haven’t seen more progress is women have sort of hit a wall where there’s not enough flexibility at home and work,” he says.

Cohen says employers could help by being more open to flextime. And the government could step in with more public preschool programs.


Here are some more interesting job facts we culled from the census data:

  • The largest occupation category for men was truck driver (3.2 million)
  • For women, the largest occupation category was secretary/administrative assistant (3.8 million)
  • The largest occupation category for Asians was computer software engineer (247,000)
  • Among African Americans/blacks, the largest occupation category was nursing, psychiatric/home health aide (731,000)
  • The largest occupation category for whites was secretary/administrative assistant (3.0 million)
  • Among Hispanics, construction laborer was the largest occupation category (409,000)
  • The fastest-growing occupation among all races was personal care aide.

And here are a few more from the Wealth & Poverty Desk.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.
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Is there a possibility that women, as a group, haven't "hit a wall" but have made a choice, generally speaking, that they are satisfied with a work vs. home balance that tends to includes less responsibility in the workplace, than men, and more at home? Mr. Cohen may have a study that says the most woman who aren't full-timers would rather be but can't. However, if such a study is not the basis for his comment, then it certainly seems like his analysis, that assumes that women think and value the same work vs. home time as men do, is suspect. I find a lot of women I know do not desire as much out of the home work as men, speaking again in generalizations. Why is it that he thinks that there is something aims if women and men have different work based statistical characteristic?

Interesting that this story started with observing that the largest occupation of women and men are secretary and truck driver respectively but only focused on the progress or stagnating progress of women. I guess the implied lack of progress of men is okay.

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