Woman-Dominated Occupations Face Regulatory Discrimination

Here’s a fascinating graphic from The Wall Street Journal showing the most woman-dominated jobs in America. Something that pops out at me is that with the exception of K-12 teachers these are all occupational categories that suffer from a large degree of regulatory discrimination. In many states, dental hygenists can’t clean teeth without being “supervised” by a dentist even though in practice dentists’ “supervision” of teeth cleanings really consists of nothing more than taking a cut of the salaries. Similarly, many states place irrationally tight restrictions on what health care services nurses can provide without working for a doctor. The case of waitresses and bartenders is a little less clear cut, but again the widespread practice of curtailing the issuance of liquor licenses to bars and restaurants has the impact of sharply reducing employer demand for these workers and therefore keeping wages low. In all four cases you probably have causation running in both directions, from fields becoming dominated by women due to their low status and toward fields becoming low status since many women work in them. What’s worse, I think you see a problematic tendency to simply dismiss this kind of work as inherently less valuable than “manlier” occupations like working in a factory. But what you see here are a range of occupational categories involving a range of skill levels that are reasonably accessible to individuals without elite educational backgrounds. They’re jobs that aren’t going to be outsourced to China, and that in many ways are complementary to technology improvements. And people in these positions—whether that’s waitresses on the bottom end or hygenists and then nurses further up the ladder—could be earning a lot more money if we as a country took the regulatory barriers more seriously.