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Why Many Men Would Rather Be Unemployed Than Do 'Women's Work'

According to a new labor report, female-dominated industries like health care services and education continue to see a rise in new jobs. We asked an economics expert why unemployed men aren't flocking to fill these positions.

by Kimberly Lawson
Jan 6 2017, 8:40pm

Photo by Joselito Briones via Stocksy

The latest jobs report marked 75 consecutive months of job growth and highlighted that Obama created over 11 million jobs during his presidency. It also offered a glimpse at how perceived gender roles impact the labor market.

According to figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning, male-oriented industries continue to add fewer positions than female-oriented fields. The manufacturing industry, for example, posted a gain of only 17,000 jobs in December, after losing positions in both October and November. Comparatively, the education and healthcare industries, both described as "pink-collar" work because more women generally work in those fields, added 70,000 jobs last month.

Currently, the unemployment rate for adult men is 4.4 percent; for women, it's 4.3 percent. One solution for men would appear obvious: Those who were once locomotive firers and electronic equipment installers, positions predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to decline the fastest from 2014 to 2024, should transition into fields that are actually seeing growth. A Pew Research Center study released last October reported that education and health services have shown the quickest employment growth in the past 25 years.

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But, according to analysis from the New York Times, men don't want those jobs because they're mostly held by women. One welder told the media outlet that even though he's lost several jobs in his field because of advances in technology, he'd never consider going into health care—even if the opportunities were there. "I don't want it to sound bad, but I've always seen a woman in the position of a nurse or some kind of health care worker," Tracy Dawson said. "I see it as more of a woman's touch."

Pink-collar jobs generally pay less than blue-collar ones, so that's certainly a factor in why many men don't take on those roles. But research reveals that when men do go into female-dominated fields, they tend to make more money and advance quicker.

"Traditional masculinity is standing in the way of working-class men's employment, and I think it's a problem," Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist and public policy professor at Johns Hopkins, told the New York Times.

Olga Shurchkov, an economics professor at Wellesley College, says these perceptions of gendered jobs and tasks are deeply ingrained in people from a young age. "The consensus in behavioral economics literature is that women exhibit greater aversion to competition and risk-taking and are arguably more cooperative than men," she tells Broadly. "All it takes for boys to outperform the girls in competition is for the task to be perceived as male-oriented. In stereotypically female-oriented tasks women start to compete and perform as well as men."

That's why, she argues, men don't readily enter female-oriented jobs. Part of it has to do with stigma, of course, but sometimes it has to do with preferences that were developed either innately or by societal influence.

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One way to change the way men view these female-oriented jobs, Shurchkov says, is to address these issues at a young age. She cites an example in Europe in the early 2000s in which leaders pushed for more men to enter child care roles in order to change the perception of the jobs.

Ironically, Shurchkov adds, the stigma would also disappear if more men simply entered these female-oriented fields. "With a critical mass of men in an industry, the perceptions could be changed. [But] it's more than just forcing them to do it. That would be a naive view: that we can change people's preferences that are so deeply ingrained."

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Olga Shurchkov