Over the past 50 years, women have been able to break through social constraints and make tremendous progress professionally. But when you look at the American female population as a whole, things may not be so different. The most common job among American women today is the same as it was during the 1950s: secretary.
Between 2006 and 2010, about 4 million workers in the U.S. worked as “secretaries and administrative assistants,” and 96% of them were women, according to the U.S. census.
Secretary became a traditionally female profession during the industrial revolution. In the early 20th century, becoming a secretary was a way for women to have a full-time career, and be successful, without a full college education. Women could attend a secretarial school to get the necessary training, which was easier than getting a college degree. But the real reason it took off as a female-dominated profession was most likely because companies figured out they could hire full-time female secretaries and pay them less.
Secretary didn’t become the most popular job among women until 1950, when about 1.7 million women were working as “stenographers, typists or secretaries,” according to the Census. But since then, the age-old title of “secretary” has become a widely frowned upon term, and even though the name of the position has been modified, the role itself has continued to remain essential to American business.
“Administrative assistant” may actually keep its spot as the top female job into the next decade, according to the Labor Department. The profession is expected to grow about 12% and add 493,000 new jobs between 2010 and 2020, a sign that the career isn’t going anywhere.
While women’s rights groups have fought to earn women professionals different titles, what they haven’t accomplished yet is equal pay.
In 2010, women working as full-time secretaries and administrative assistants made an average of $34,304.
During that same year, men in similar roles earned an average of $39,641.
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