In 1950, secretary was the most common job for women. Guess what it was in 2010, according to the most recent census? The exact same thing. Today, 96% of secretaries and administrative assistants in the United States are women.
CNNMoney takes an interesting look at how secretarial work came to be so dominated by women, and how the job has stayed that way despite the fact that so many other once-segregated jobs (like bank teller and sales clerk) have evolved so much.
The Industrial Revolution meant not just manufacturing and machines, but tons of paperwork. When companies realized they could pay women lower wages to process all of that paperwork, the female secretary was born. Secretarial schools popped up to train these women, which made it possible for them to advance without acquiring a full college education. By the 1950s, secretary had become the most popular job for women, with 1.7 million women employed in the Census category “stenographers, typists or secretaries.”
“Every time a major new technology showed up, there were always predictions that this would spell the end of secretaries,” the spokesman for the International Association of Administrative Professionals tells CNNMoney. “You saw that with the development of electric typewriters, the personal computer, and the internet, but every time technology gets more efficient, the amount of business increases. You continue to need people who can use those tools.”
Just about the only thing that has really changed is the word itself: “Administrative assistant” is now the preferred term, although the term “secretary” made a slight comeback in 2011, possibly thanks to Mad Men nostalgia.