Occupations traditionally considered women’s work are termed pink collar. These occupations typically include the clerical, sales, and service fields. Nurse, waitress, elementary school teacher, secretary, administrative assistant, sales clerk, cashier, child care worker, and beautician are among the most common female-dominated occupations. They are termed pink collar in relation to the more common terms blue collar and white collar. These jobs do not fit in as blue collar since there is little or no manual labor, nor are they as prestigious as white-collar occupations. Often these occupations do not pay well and offer little expectation of advancement. While some pink-collar jobs carry prestige and a certain amount of autonomy, their pay is not usually reflective of this. These careers are not the lowest in status, but they often do not allow movement up the career ladder.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 20 million women work in the fields of health, education, and social services. Many jobs in these fields are considered pink collar and carry with them a stereotype that women are more suited for this work because it requires a caring or nurturing nature, such as among kindergarten and preschool teachers, where women are over-represented. Even as men enter the field of teaching in greater numbers, women are more often teaching the younger grades, often seen as less prestigious work.
Historically, women who had to work performed domestic services in sewing, laundry, and housekeeping—jobs that utilized domestic skills they had learned in the home. They would complete such work in their own homes or the homes of more affluent families, or else they worked in factories or sweatshops where the pay was bad and conditions worse. Eventually, some women were able to move into less manual positions that offered more freedom, such as secretary, clerk, or service-related occupations. Even then, occupations that began as well respected and male only, such as clerks, were downgraded in status once women entered their ranks. For awhile, the pink-collar label applied to work once associated with “women’s machines”: telephones and typewriters.
Job requirements in pink-collar occupations can range anywhere from little education to a college degree, but one thing is consistent: the lack of equal work for equal pay regardless of gender. In 2006, for example, female workers made only 77 cents per dollar compared to males with the same level of education. Despite breakthroughs in gender roles and employment in recent decades, women are still heavily represented in clerical, service, and sales occupations. While they are taking positions in other fields as well, women often hold lower-level, lower-paid positions than males. This wage gap, until equalized, remains a problem for working women.
- Bose, Christine E. and Peter H. Rossi. 1983. “Gender and Jobs: Prestige Standings of Occupations as Affected by Gender.” American Sociological Review 48(3):316-30.
- Kapp, Louise Howe. 1977. Pink Collar Workers: Inside the World of Women S Work. New York: Avon.
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