25 best-paying jobs for women

From a purely financial standpoint, we wondered what careers would narrow the wage gap if more women pursued them. According to the BLS, these 25 jobs are the ones that give women the most earning potential.

In the past 30 years, the wage gap between men and women has narrowed considerably. In 1979, the year the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking salary information by gender, women earned just 62 percent of what men did. Earlier this year, the BLS reported that, in the fourth quarter of 2011, that figure had risen nearly 20 percent. Women now earn an average of 81.6 cents for every dollar men do.

But in a time when women make up close to half of the workforce and are graduating from college at a higher rate than men, why is there still a nearly 20 percent difference in earnings?

There are a number of reasons the pay gap persists. Women are more likely to work part time and less likely to negotiate their salaries, for example.

Perhaps the biggest factor? Women make up a smaller percentage of the workforce in high-paying careers such as engineering, computer science and finance than men. According to the BLS, for example, “In 2008, only 9 percent of female professionals were employed in the high-paying computer and engineering fields, compared with 45 percent of male professionals." Additional research from Bloomberg BusinessWeek found that, among business school graduates, men were more likely to pursue high-paying fields such as finance and consulting, while women were more likely to choose lower-paying careers in human resources and marketing.

“Women often pursue careers like social work, publishing, nonprofit and education where the pay is historically lower than in fields like finance and engineering," says Roy Cohen, author of “The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide." “Even in medicine, more men will become surgeons, whereas female physicians tend to pursue dermatology or internal medicine, which also tend to offer lower compensation."

That's not a bad thing; research has shown that women are more likely to choose work they find interesting and fulfilling over work that is lucrative. From a purely financial standpoint, we wondered what careers would narrow the wage gap if more women pursued them. According to the BLS, these 25 jobs are the ones that give women the most earning potential.

1. Pharmacists
Average weekly wage: $1,898*

2. Lawyers
Average weekly wage: $1,631

3. Computer and information systems managers
Average weekly wage: $1,543

4. Physicians and surgeons
Average weekly wage: $1,527

5. Chief executives
Average weekly wage: $1,464

6. Nurse practitioners
Average weekly wage: $1,432

7. Software developers
Average weekly wage: $1,388

8. Operations research analysts
Average weekly wage: $1,326

9. Human resources managers
Average weekly wage: $1,273

10. Psychologists
Average weekly wage: $1,244

11. Computer programmers
Average weekly wage: $1,238

12. Physical therapists
Average weekly wage: $1,216

13. Occupational therapists
Average weekly wage: $1,193

14. Management analysts
Average weekly wage: $1,174

15. Physical scientists
Average weekly wage: $1,167

16. Medical and health services managers
Average weekly wage: $1,166

17. Computer systems analysts
Average weekly wage: $1,144

18. Architecture and engineering
Average weekly wage: $1,140

19. Marketing and sales managers
Average weekly wage: $1,127

20. Medical scientists
Average weekly wage: $1,127

21. Postsecondary teachers and professors
Average weekly wage: $1,093

22. Speech-language pathologists
Average weekly wage: $1,076

23. Education administrators
Average weekly wage: $1,061

24. Managers, all other
Average weekly wage: $1,047

25. Registered nurses
Average weekly wage: $1,034

*Based on BLS data from 2011