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January 9, 2017

Why aren't there more male nurses?

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on March 12, 2020.

    The demand for health care jobs is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. But there's a problem: Many men don't want health care jobs they see as "women's work," Claire Cain Miller reports for New York Times' "The Upshot."

    Infographic: Why you're in danger of building the wrong workforce

    Many of the jobs traditionally available to men without a college degree in the United States, such as factory work, are gone or are projected to decline sharply in coming years. Meanwhile, demand for service-sector jobs, especially jobs in the health care industry, is growing.

    Yet many men who are looking for work won't consider working in health care as a health aide, nurse, technician, or in a similar role, Cain Miller writes. One factor is educational barriers: Many health care jobs require special training. But "they're also seen as women's work, which has always been devalued in the American labor market," Cain Miller says.

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and PayScale, women comprise about 90 percent of the workforce for several types of health care occupations that are projected to grow substantially between 2014 and 2024. For instance, according to BLS and PayScale, the number of:

    • Occupational therapy assistants will increase 43 percent;
    • Home health aides will increase 38 percent; and
    • Nurse practitioners will increase 35 percent.

    Some men deterred by stigma, low pay, and educational barriers

    Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist and public policy professor at Johns Hopkins University, said traditional views of masculinity are part of why male workers are steering clear of so-called "pink collar" jobs. "Traditional masculinity is standing in the way of working-class men's employment, and I think it's a problem," he explained. "We have a cultural lag where our views of masculinity have not caught up to the change in the job market."

    Lawrence Katz, an economist at Harvard University, said another factor is "retrospective wait unemployment," or "looking for the job you used to have." He explained that many men who did manual labor say they don't have the time to train for a new role or prefer something similar to their old job because they prefer to work with things, not people. "It's not a skill mismatch, but an identity mismatch," Katz argued.

    Another factor is pay. Janette Dill, a sociologist at the University of Akron, published a study last year that found men in entry-level health care jobs, such as a nursing assistant, earn about 10 percent less than men in blue-collar jobs—but those with health care jobs were also less likely to get laid off and more likely to see their wages raise over time.

    Over the long term, some experts say economic math will push more men to consider traditionally feminine occupations. "More men will go into care because they don't have a choice, but they're going to carve out spaces for themselves that feel less like women's work," Dill said.

    For instance, higher-level jobs in the health care industry, such as an ultrasound technician, not only pay about 22 more than other blue-collar jobs, even after controlling for factors like education, but tends to involve less patient interaction and more technical, computer-based work, which men may see as  less traditionally feminine, Cain Miller says. And Cain Miller writes that more men would likely consider lower-level positions in the health care industry, such as a health aide, if they provided better pay and benefits.

    According to Dill, the more men who do pink-collar jobs, the less stigmatized the roles will be.

    Recruitment strategies

    Minority Nurse's Michele Wojciechowski spoke with several male nurses and nursing students who shared ideas about how health care organizations could recruit more male employees.

    Daniel Satalino, a nursing student at Seton Hall University, said history can help convince men that nursing isn't just for women. For instance, Satalino noted that many male nurses served in World War II on the front lines. And some hospitals, according to Cain Miller, have tried making caregiving roles seem more masculine in promotional materials, such as posters that compare working in an OR to mountain climbing.

    Larry Hornsby, SVP of operations for the southeast division of Northstar Anesthesia, also said men might be more interested in nursing if they understood it could lead to specialized opportunities and leadership roles. He credited his own work experience as a nurse anesthetist as foundational to his ability to manage and own an anesthesia management company. That opportunity "remain[ed] grounded in my nursing roots," he said (Wojciechowski, Minority Nurse, 10/17/16; Cain Miller, "The Upshot," New York Times, 1/4).

    Why you're in danger of building the wrong workforce

    To succeed in the future, health care organizations will need to provide care in the lowest-cost, most appropriate setting—and to accomplish this, they’ll need a different complement of staff than in the past.

    But if today's leaders don't revise their workforce planning strategy, they're in danger of building the wrong workforce, a mistake that will be costly in the long run and could take 10 to 12 years to correct.

    Find out what you need to do to revise your approach—starting from the "outside-in."

    View the Infographic

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