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‘Pink Ghetto’ Changing Its Colors, Rutgers Sociologist Finds
More men finding jobs in fields traditionally associated with women
It’s not your imagination: You really are encountering more male secretaries, elementary-school teachers and receptionists today than ever before. Increasingly, men are opting for jobs in the so-called “pink ghetto,” a recent New York Times article observed. Moreover, they’re getting paid better and rising more rapidly to the top of their profession. Patricia Roos, professor of sociology in Rutgers’ School of Arts and Sciences, was among the researchers quoted in the Times article. She spoke with Rutgers Today about factors driving men to enter traditionally female jobs, and what impact the trend is having on the workplace.
Rutgers Today: How did certain occupations – secretarial jobs, for example – come to be defined as “women’s work” in the first place?
Patricia Roos: Clerical work wasn’t always women’s work. During the late 1800s, most clerical workers were men, and they were better paid than men in factory jobs. Clerical work feminized when the work itself changed and the demand for such workers increased. Growing bureaucratization increased the need for record keeping and a hierarchical division of labor. When typewriters were introduced in the 1870s, employers mechanized clerical work, broke down skilled office work into more routine tasks, and hired women, who were less expensive workers. Men fled for more lucrative opportunities not available to women. Growing numbers of well-educated, middle-class women filled the gap.
Rutgers Today: The New York Times recently reported on research you conducted with Mary Gatta, formerly of Rutgers’ Center for Women and Work and now a senior scholar at Wider Opportunities for Women in Washington DC. The article noted that from 1970 to 1990, men who moved into traditionally female jobs tended to be foreign-born non-English speakers with little formal education. Now the trend encompasses men of all races and ages. What significance does this have for families and for society as a whole? What changes will it bring to the work place?
Roos: In the late 1990s, Mary Gatta and I became interested in so-called “integrated occupations,” mixed occupations in which the proportions of women and men are approximately similar. Using census data from 1970, 1980 and 1990, we found that few occupations were or remained mixed in sex composition. Reflecting the significant occupational sex segregation in the labor market, most occupations were either “women’s” or “men’s” work. One wonderfully serendipitous finding of our research, however, was that occupations had different paths to integration. Most feminized, some remained mixed and a very few masculinized. We found that those moving into traditionally female occupations between 1970 and 1990 – masculinizing occupations – were typically foreign-born minority men with poor English skills. This finding has important implications for research on occupational succession by race and sex, a topic we are examining further with 2000 and 2010 census data.
The Times data are broadly consistent with our findings: Minority men are especially likely to make significant inroads into traditionally female jobs. In contrast to previous decades, however, white men – the least likely to integrate traditionally female occupations – also made such moves. If this declining sex segregation persists, it would benefit women, men and their families. Women would have access to more prestigious and better-paying jobs. Increasing the number of men in female fields would diminish the gender-typing of such occupations as low-paid “women’s work.” More men might find such jobs attractive, increasing their job options as other traditionally male opportunities decline, and employers might see men as more appropriate for traditional women’s work.
Rutgers Today: Men entering the “pink ghetto” tend to earn more than their female counterparts. They also seem to rise more quickly to supervisory levels, particularly white men. How do you account for this, and do you see this changing in the near future?
Roos: Sociologist Christine Williams coined the term “glass escalator” to describe the hidden benefits men (at least white men) have when they work as nurses, elementary teachers, librarians and social workers. Employers often prefer men when they apply, and more often hire them into administrative tracks. But because of gender stereotyping, men in these occupations experience discrimination from people who see them as less masculine. This stigma reduces the number of men applying for these occupations, while simultaneously leading employers to steer male recruits into the more prestigious and higher-paying specialties. As long as that stigma persists, I don’t see this outcome changing, either for men seeking work or for employers seeking recruits.
Rutgers Today: When the economy ultimately recovers, will the traditional occupation gender roles revert to pre-2010 patterns, or has the new reality given men permanent “permission” to find career satisfaction in so-called softer fields?
Roos: While women have flocked to traditionally male occupations in large numbers, to date the reverse has not been the case. That’s what makes the Times findings so intriguing. The fact that men – both minority and now white men – are bucking gender stereotypes to take advantage of opportunities in female jobs might well propel us toward a permanent decline in occupational sex segregation.
The post-1970 women’s inroads into traditionally male occupations were dramatic, and they continued into the 1990s at declining rates. It’s too early to know whether the movement of men into traditionally female occupations will be equally historic, but if this trend indicates declining rates of stigma for men working in such jobs, it will be all for the best.
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