Unemployment encourages men to seek traditionally female jobs

Jill Yavorsky
Monday, December 9, 2019

Unemployment significantly increases the odds of men entering jobs traditionally held by women. And, according to new research, some men experience advantages such as earning higher wages and enjoying increased occupational prestige versus previous employment.

Researchers Jill Yavorsky and Janette Dill, in a study published in the journal Social Science Research, found that men who previously worked in male-dominated or mixed-gender fields are significantly more likely to transition to female-dominated jobs, for example those in education or administrative fields, following a bout of unemployment. Yavorsky is an assistant professor of sociology at UNC Charlotte, and Dill is on the faculty at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.

When men take jobs traditionally held by women, their wages increase, on average, by 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.

The research finding is based on analyses from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, surveys administered by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Yavorsky and Dill approached the study with 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 alternative 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 expectation was true.

"Our study suggests that unemployment may act as a shock that encourages men to consider job alternatives that they might not otherwise consider while employed," Yavorsky said. "When men are facing potentially missed housing, car payments or the lack of an income stream, that's really meaningful.

"This is particularly important, given shifting labor market conditions. Over the past several decades, male-dominated jobs, including 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 health care and education," she added.

Dill noted, "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.”

As stated earlier, the study found that for men entering female-dominated fields, wages increased by an average 4 percent along with the prestige of their occupation, based on 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.

According to the researchers, there are a variety of possible explanations for why the change to female-dominated work means potential higher wages and increases in occupational prestige for men. During unemployment, men’s searches for female-dominated jobs may be targeted toward upgraded jobs to offset any stigma they may face for entering jobs traditionally thought of as “women’s work.” Additionally, men's previous experience in male-dominated or mixed-gender jobs may be more highly valued by potential new employers.

"Many men transitioned from manual working-class jobs to entry-level white-collar female-dominated jobs,” said Yavorsky. “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."

The study authors point out that the entrance into white-collar female-dominated jobs may be a springboard for future upward advancement, given what other research has found in recent decades.

"There is an interesting concept called 'the glass escalator' that has been pretty well-studied over the last 25 years," 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 during the past several decades, this study shows that individual economic conditions really matter for men's job decisions.

"Our study highlights the fact that men open up their job options to include female-dominated fields when faced with unemployment. Not only that, there may be benefits associated with going into these jobs, benefits that could have real implications for men and their families given the financial constraints typically associated with unemployment," Yavorsky concluded.

At the same time, she cautions drawing too large of implications from the study.

"A key limitation is that the data used only allows us to look at short-term events. We don't know how men's careers continue in female-dominated jobs, how long they stay in these jobs, or how their wage trajectory goes," stated Yavorsky.

Photo: Jill Yavorsky.