What happens when women make up half of the work force and they are more likely than ever before to be primary or co-breadwinners in their families? It means it's increasingly crucial for women to earn top dollar for their labor.
To rank the 10 best-paying jobs for women we tabulated the median weekly earnings of female, full-time wage and salary workers in 2009, as provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Men are still earning more across industries — about 20 percent more than women per week — but women are quickly closing the gap. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a slim majority (51 percent) of workers in high-paying management and professional jobs are female.
This top 10 list is equal parts a lesson in the importance of math and science skills, a showcase for the obvious (doctors, lawyers), a reinterpretation of "women's work" and an attempt to forecast the high-paying jobs of the future.
Chief executive came in at No.1 on our list as the top-paying job for women. Female chief executives made a median of $1,553 per week, or about $81,000, in 2009. However, their total numbers are still low, and they aren't earning equally to men. Women comprise just a quarter of all chief executive positions and earn 75 percent as much as their male peers. But younger women may be moving into business more than previous generations. In 2007 women received 44 percent of all M.B.A.s., according to the U.S. Department of Education, while in 1997 they earned 39 percent, translating to a 75 percent increase in the last 10 years.
"Chief executives will remain well-paid in years to come, and it's a position you can work your way into," says Al Lee, director of quantitative analysis for PayScale, an online provider of employee compensation data. "Becoming a CEO might be easier than becoming a doctor. You can be a CEO at age 35, when a doctor is just getting done with training."
Like last year, a career in pharmacy was a top contender. Pharmacist placed second on our list — above lawyers (No. 3) and physicians and surgeons (No. 6). Female pharmacists earned a median of $1,475 per week and about $76,500 for the year. Women are flocking to the field, now holding almost half of pharmacist positions — and with good reason. The BLS expects the field to expand faster than most, with pharmacist positions projected to increase 17 percent by 2018.
Confused by why physicians and surgeons rank lower than pharmacists? Lee believes it's because the category is so large. It includes neurosurgeons as well as interns and residents, who make drastically less. Furthermore, there is a broad array of specialties. Women often choose the lower-paying specialties like family practice and pediatrics, he says, which brings down the pay average.
Computer programmer, a new addition to the list, came in at No. 7. Women constitute only 21 percent of the field but earn nearly equally to men. Female computer programmers earn a median of $62,000 a year, and those in the top 10 percent of the field make a salary of $111,000. Some other upsides of the job: Most programmers work standard 40-hour weeks, and telecommuting is becoming more common. Plus, employers typically require only a bachelor's degree, which is particularly appealing to women who want high earnings without the educational investment required by fields like medicine or law.
A surprising new entrant, occupational therapists came in at No. 10. This is the only profession on the list dominated by women, who hold 82 percent of all positions. It's also the only field in which women earn equally to men. Occupational therapists typically have a master's degree or higher and earn $1,155 a week, or a median of $60,000 yearly. They help patients recover or improve basic motor skills so they can perform daily tasks like dressing, cooking and eating. Plus, it's an in-demand job. Employment is expected to grow 26 percent by 2018, with another 26,000 positions created.
The lowest-paying jobs for women were concentrated in the service industry. Launders and dry cleaners ($362/week), waiters ($363/week), child-care workers (364/week) and maids ($371/week) were not only the lowest-paying jobs; they were predominantly filled by women.
PayScale's Lee says technical and in-demand fields are women's best bet for earning good money. "There are lots of women out there who could be in these fields, but if women decide to teach math instead of going into computer programming, they've left money on the table."
© 2012 Forbes.com