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Why aren’t ‘manly’ men taking ‘girly’ jobs?

Editor’s Note: Over the past 20 years, female-dominated industries like health care and education services have grown immensely, while male-dominated industries like manufacturing have lost millions of jobs. The economy is shifting, and it seems like men are on the losing side. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says economist Betsey Stevenson, an associate professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan. In a column for Bloomberg, she’s blunt: Manly men need to do more girly jobs.

Economics correspondent Paul Solman sat down with Stevenson to discuss the growth in female-dominated sectors and how stigma might be holding men back from taking jobs seen as “women’s work.” Tune in to tonight’s Making Sen$e report on one man who breaks down the stereotype as an elementary school teacher and football coach, and watch last week’s report on how stigma holds more men back from becoming teachers.

— Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor


PAUL SOLMAN: So are there more jobs for unemployed or underemployed men, or men out of the labor force entirely, than we think?

BETSEY STEVENSON: Well, the economy is adding jobs. The labor market’s quite strong. The question is where are those jobs being added, and what we’re seeing is, jobs are being added in the service sector. That’s the direction the economy’s moving. We’ve seen particularly strong growth in education and health services, for instance. So if you look over the last 20 years, we’ve lost 5 million jobs in manufacturing and gained 9 million jobs in education and health services. So we’re more than making up for the jobs we’re losing, but the characteristics of those jobs, the identity associated with a worker who holds one of those jobs and the pay associated with those jobs, are different. It’s not about whether there are jobs, but about what kind of jobs there are.

PAUL SOLMAN: And the jobs you’re talking about are, at least historically, more associated with women than men.

BETSEY STEVENSON: Yes, so the service sector has always been where women are more likely to be drawn to. I highlight education and health services because that’s a job that has been majority women. Seventy-five percent of the people in those occupations are women currently. And you compare that to manufacturing jobs where you see the flip side where it’s mostly men. So you see shrinkage in male-dominated occupations, and where we see the growth in is female-dominated occupations.

PAUL SOLMAN: At least recently. It’s not like some of these professions were always female.

BETSEY STEVENSON: You know, I think that’s a really good point that what makes an occupation female dominated or male dominated is really cultural, and it can easily change. And you know when we think about things like home health care aids, people tend to think of that as a very female job, but in truth that’s a job that’s about physically lifting, moving, restraining people. And those jobs require great physical strength. You could imagine a different culture where we said, “Oh, those are jobs for men, because men need to be the ones to carry people to the bath and are able to lift and move people with great ease.”

Similarly, I was just talking with someone who was talking about trying to restrain a psychiatric patient and how difficult that is as a small woman. So you can imagine there are lots of jobs in education and health services where physical strength is an attribute, yet that’s been sort of sidelined, and we tend to emphasize the caring, the nurturing aspects, which makes people see them as feminine jobs.

Watch Paul Solman’s first report on how stigma may be holding men back from pursuing jobs in education.

PAUL SOLMAN: Why did that happen, do you suppose?

BETSEY STEVENSON: I’ve seen lots of economists say for decades now, “There are plenty of jobs. Men just need to get over themselves and go into these other fields.” I think what I’m trying to appreciate is that identity is tougher than that, and we need to think about how we transition men into these types of jobs in the new economy while preserving their notions of masculinity or shifting their notions of masculinity so that their identity moves seamlessly with them into these new jobs. And just sort of telling them, “Hey, you need to go into pink collar jobs,” is not working, and it’s frustrated a lot of men.

But I think that we need to be working together as a society to figure out how we make this shift, because the story of economic development is one in which machines and technological development change the need in the type of human labor that is used. And this shift has been going on for hundreds of years, and we’ve had to adapt. And I don’t think that what’s happening right now is really any different than what’s happened in the past, but what is different is we have larger participation of women than we’ve ever had before, and we have women who are responding more to the changing needs.

So college-educated workers have never done better than they’re doing in our current economy, and women are going to college more than men. They understand that that’s where the gains are, and they’re going. They see that these fields like education and health services are in demand and growing.

People point out that they are lower paid than some of the manufacturing jobs, but they actually have greater wage trajectories and there’s room for promotion and wage growth, because these are growing fields.

PAUL SOLMAN: What are the data on that? What are the data on how much you can make in a manufacturing job in America and how much you can make in health services, say?

BETSEY STEVENSON: What we’re seeing right now in manufacturing is very stagnant wages. So even if you can get one of these illustrious jobs, there’s not a lot of growth. So I think that it’s worth thinking not just about what’s the average wage, but what people’s paths can look like and also what their job stability looks like. Because losing your job is a path to lower wages for sure, and what we see in manufacturing is a lot more job loss. So you want to think about if I go into a profession, how likely will I be to stay there, to keep it? What will the path look like? Is there room for promotion? Is there room for growth? Is there room for me to get additional training?

Those are the kinds of questions that people need to be asking. And even if we bring back more manufacturing jobs, it’s not clear that those manufacturing jobs are going to come with paths to promotion and growth.

PAUL SOLMAN: I know you’re not a sociologist or a psychologist but you’ve studied this issue and written about it. Where is the resistance within men to pink collar jobs?

BETSEY STEVENSON: I think that part of it is they see the low starting pay and that feels somewhat insulting. I think they feel stigmatized, like they’re going in to do girls’ work. When I wrote that op-ed where I said manly men need to do girly jobs, I was trying to say: It’s ridiculous that we have these girly jobs and we talk about manly men. These are jobs. They’re good jobs. But at the same time we need to recognize that there are a lot of guys who feel, either because their friends or their community or because of themselves, that when they take one of these jobs that they are doing something girly, and that feeling is a barrier for them.

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