The public workforce was once almost completely male. Women’s work was traditionally within the home, caring for children and running a household. Today’s workplace is a far cry from those times, thanks to feminists who fought for and won women’s employment rights. But the modern workforce still includes women-dominated industries with so-called pink-collar jobs.
“Pink-collar job” describes job fields that primarily employ women. Generally, work that requires nurturing, assisting, cleaning, organization or communication will likely be pink-collar work. Men tend to avoid pink-collar jobs because they’re in search of higher-paying work that values "masculine" qualities. The term pink-collar branched off from the traditional blue-collar and white-collar job descriptors, which respectively denote upper- and middle-class professions traditionally assigned to men.
Before World War II, men dominated the workforce while their wives stayed at home as caretakers. But during the war, so many men were taken from the workforce that women had to step in and work. It was a revolution for women — they flooded into jobs never held by people of their gender before. But when men returned home after the war, women were forced to return home, too.
The only work roles for women through much of the 50s and 60s were those that embodied women’s “strengths.” Because women were seen to be organized and helpful, they filled secretary roles. Since women were believed to be nurturing and able to work with children, they were designated as teachers and nurses. That’s it — women could only aspire to become a secretary, teacher, nurse or housewife at this time.
But in the 1970s and 80s, women fought for equality in the workplace. They coined the term “pink-collar” to describe the binding traditional women’s secretary/teacher/nurse jobs filled by women. Through multiple waves of feminism, the road to equality in the workplace was paved for women. Today’s women push boundaries and even enter jobs traditionally meant for men.
Still, there's major gender inequality in the workforce. Pink-collar jobs haven’t disappeared, despite efforts for complete gender equality. Women dominate certain fields across industries, often those that are lower-paying and related to caretaking. However, as society continues to shift and industries’ needs change, there are more pink-collar jobs in the world.
Here’s a selection of jobs mainly filled by women:
Women have always been viewed as the primary caretakers of young children. This gender bias still exists today, which is evident through the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report that 97.6% of preschool and kindergarten teachers in 2018 were women.
During World War II, women served as army nurses aiding male soldiers. It was seen as a natural woman’s role since women were viewed as caretakers. That bias still clearly exists today. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 90% of all registered nurses are women. It’s one of the higher-paying pink-collar jobs, but male nurses are still paid higher on average than their female counterparts.
Social workers deal with social issues between individuals and the society that surrounds them. Their places of work vary from schools to government settings. A 2017 study performed by the Council on Social Work Education found that 90% of respondents were women.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported in 2010 that 71.1% of all tax preparers were women. Preparing taxes is comparable to “secretarial”-type work, which may be why so many in this profession are female.
One of the earliest pink-collar jobs, secretaries keep everything running smoothly in an office. From scheduling appointments to answering phone calls and completing paperwork, secretaries must be excellent at organization, detail and serving the needs of others.
A newly emerging pink-collar industry, women flock to this job because they can do it from home. This allows women who were trapped at home and unemployed in the past to find new ways to earn an income while taking care of their home life.
Planning has always been considered women’s work. Women who stayed at home were experienced in running lots at once — meal plans, shopping, school, sports, you name it. This translates well into a career for those who want to earn income and use their organizational skills to help others.
Public relations is a field that’s increasingly gaining women. In 2018, the BLS reported that 72.8% of public relations managers were women. Once a male-dominated field, this type of pink-collar job is newly emerging and offering more opportunities to women.
Psychology is the study of how the mind works and how people relate to others and their surroundings. Almost 76% of psychologists are women according to the BLS.
Paralegals are basically secretaries with background knowledge of the law to better assist lawyers. According to the BLS, about 86% of them are women.
A whopping 93.1% of people in this field are women, says the BLS. Dietitians and nutritionists are specialists who help people consume the right combination of foods and vitamins to support their body’s health. They sometimes use diets to treat health conditions or help people lose weight.
Ninety-seven percent of dental hygienists are women, while women only make up 35.7% of dentists, according to the BLS. Why the huge difference? Dentists require more training and care for any health problems with the teeth or gums. Dental hygienists focus more on cleaning the teeth and educating patients on proper oral healthcare.
This field focuses on communication, so it makes sense that 96% of speech pathologists in 2018 were female according to the BLS. These specialists work with children and speech-disabled adults to help them improve their oral communication. The job takes patience and a caring nature, both of which are traditionally assigned to women.
According to a 2016 Pew Research Center analysis of BLS data, over the past 25 years, employment for traditionally-male manufacturing jobs has decreased by 30%, while jobs in education have increased by 105% and healthcare by 99 percent. The latter two fields are dominated by women, showing that pink-collar careers aren’t going away anytime soon.
The Pew analysis concluded that “the rise of a service-oriented and knowledge-based economy” will skew jobs in women’s favor, since women have traditionally held the majority of these types of jobs while men worked more in the manufacturing and goods industries.
It looks like pink-collar jobs may explode in the future, employing more men as traditionally “male” industries collapse. Technology all but replaces the need for physical labor that’s been traditionally performed by men. With an aging baby boomer generation, demand for caretakers and nurses will continue growing, too. It may actually pay off to be a woman (or another gender) in the pink-collar sector in the future.
Valerie Sizelove is a full-time freelance writer specializing in the areas of career guides, working parents and mental health. When she's not writing, you can find her wrangling one of her four kids or cooking up a big dinner with veggies from the vegetable garden.