Unemployment May Nudge Men Toward Female-Dominated Jobs

A new study suggests unemployment is motivating men to enter more female-dominated careers, such as education and health care. And many unemployed men who have changed to these professions are finding real job advantages, such as increased pay and occupational prestige, compared to their previous jobs.

The findings are published in the journal Social Science Research.

The U.S. labor market has been experiencing significant changes for decades, and some traditionally male-dominated work sectors have been shrinking, resulting in unstable jobs and frequent layoffs. Because of this, labor force participation rates have been declining, especially among men in these fields.

In contrast, female-dominated jobs have some of the highest expected job and wage growth for the future (like education and health care).

“Research by economists and sociologists has pointed to the fact that if some men do not start to re-shift their job choices, they are at risk of being left behind, or facing persistent job instability due to frequent layoffs,” said co-author Dr. Janette Dill from the University of Minnesota.

The new findings are based on analyses from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, surveys administered by the U.S. Census Bureau. The researchers wanted to know if unemployment drives men to female-dominated careers.

Before looking at the data, the researchers came into the study with two competing hypotheses: First, unemployed men faced with the stigma that often comes with job loss might “hunker down” and be less willing to accept a further hit to their masculinity that might come from doing a job traditionally seen as “women’s work.”

The second hypothesis was that the practical stresses of unemployment and lack of income would provide enough stimulus to encourage men to think about previously ignored career choices.

The data clearly showed that the second hypothesis was true.

The findings reveal that men who previously worked in male-dominated or mixed-gender fields are significantly more likely to move toward female-dominated jobs following a bout of unemployment. And when they do, their wages increase, on average, 4 percent from their previous employment and their occupational prestige also increases.

Men who eventually find new employment in male-dominated or mixed-gender fields either maintain past levels or lose ground in these areas, the analysis indicates.

“What our study suggests is that unemployment may act as a shock that encourages men to consider job alternatives that they might not otherwise consider while employed,” said co-author Dr. Jill Yavorsky from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“When men are facing potentially missed housing, car payments, or the lack of an income stream, that’s really meaningful.”

This school-of-hard-knocks effect seemingly results in an important social adaptation.

“This is particularly important, given shifting labor market conditions. Over the past several decades, male-dominated jobs — and really working-class male-dominated jobs — have been disappearing. We know that the labor market is moving toward many female-dominated jobs, such as those in healthcare and education,” Yavorsky noted.

One of the more surprising findings is that men’s wages and occupational prestige may increase from what they were prior to unemployment.

In fact, wages increase for men entering female-dominated fields by an average 4 percent and the prestige of their occupation increases significantly as well, on the basis of the Nakao-Treas prestige score, a standard occupational measure in sociology.

“These potential wage and prestige benefits are meaningful because they suggest that taking a female-dominated job may help some men to avoid the common scarring effects of unemployment,” Yavorsky said.

“A host of social science research has shown that workers often take a hit to their wages and job status in the position they take after unemployment. Thus, it is significant that in some cases going into a female-dominated job may help offset typical costs associated with unemployment,” she notes.

Yavorsky and Dill note that it is important to contextualize the increases in occupational prestige that some men experienced by entering female-dominated fields.

“Many men transitioned from manual working-class jobs to entry-level white-collar female-dominated jobs. This is important because these white-collar jobs might offer greater long-term job security, given the precarity of many male-dominated working-class jobs,” said Yavorsky.

Moreover, the authors point out that entrance into white-collar female-dominated jobs may be a springboard for future upward advancement.

“There is an interesting concept called ‘the glass escalator’ that has been pretty well studied over the last 25 years or so,” Yavorsky said.

“The glass escalator describes the advantages men often experience in female-dominated jobs. Specifically, men — particularly white men — tend to have higher wages and be promoted more quickly than their women peers.”

“Of course, we do not see the reverse situation for women who go into male-dominated jobs,” she noted. “In fact, research clearly documents that women continue to face a host of disadvantages, including lower wages and difficulties in getting promoted.”

Overall, given that men have not made much progress entering female-dominated jobs over the past several decades, this study shows that individual economic conditions really matter for men’s job decisions.

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