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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young woman in search of a good-paying career should consider a nontraditional occupation. Currently I’m researching a book on this subject and decided to check the validity of the claim that women in those jobs will earn more.

In my books of the Best Jobs series, I usually compute the average earnings in jobs with a high percentage of men and compare them to the earnings for traditionally female jobs, but I base these calculations on the earnings of all workers. An even more useful figure would be the earnings of just the female workers. That would reveal whether women can really earn more by going into nontraditional occupations. I have done those calculations, and I’m glad to say that the conventional wisdom proves to be true.

For useful data, I turned to the American Community Survey 2005-07 and looked at the occupations of about 4.6 million women and about 4.3 million men who reported their income. From their responses, I identified 217 occupations (out of a total of 525) in which women accounted for 25% or fewer of the respondents—the standard definition of a nontraditional occupation for women. Then I compared the mean earnings of women in the occupations to the mean earnings of women in all occupations.

I found that women in nontraditional occupations averaged $38,429 per year, compared to $29,533 for women in all occupations. (In case you’re curious, the men also earned better in those occupations, although not by as great a percentage: $45,124, compared to $47,754.)

One reason women working in these nontraditional occupations are earning big bucks is that some of the occupations are high-status positions such as Engineering Managers (average pay for women: $90,357), Dentists ($75,727), and Aerospace Engineers ($65,494). But it was interesting to note that the occupation (actually a combination of two occupations) that came in at fourth place was Derrick, Rotary Drill, and Service Unit Operators, and Roustabouts, Oil, Gas, and Mining. The sample consisted of only 11 women, with average earnings of $67,891, compared to the average of $43,773 earned by the sample of 1,121 men. I suspect that these women are either in supervisory positions (and therefore misclassified) or else have unique skills. Perhaps it takes an exceptional woman to seek a nontraditional job.