When men choose women's jobs

June 5, 2012 - 06:00

The myth that men who choose female-dominated professions are different kind of men, does not add up.

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Men who choose female-dominated professions are often perceived as having degraded themselves in status (Photo: Colourbox)

According to new research, little indicates that men in care professions have an untraditional form of masculinity.

It seems like men who choose to study nursing in Norway, to a great extent, do so intentionally. They are committed and motivated and seem to be aware of the career possibilities the profession offers.

Untraditional choice

"They might have chosen differently, but they are not different kind of men," says Hilde Karlsen, PhD candidate at Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (HiOA).

What characterises men who choose female-dominated education and professions? Do they have different careers than women?

These were some of the questions Hilde Karlsen asked herself when she began her doctoral thesis at the Centre for the Study of Professions at HiOA. She will soon present her thesis and is close to an answer to these questions.

She has studied men in care professions with emphasis on nursing, by using StudData, a panel survey covering 20 professions and four stages under education and former working life. She also used register data of the Norwegian population.

Motivated men

Karlsen found several differences between male and female nursing students. For example she found that male nursing students are often older than the female students, something that may signify that the men have had other professions before they began their nursing education.

"Men who have chosen these study programmes are very motivated. This is something they have wanted to do for a long time," Karlsen says.

Men work in other areas of nursing than women. The women often work within care and nursing, while the men often work within psychiatric care. Also, there are more men than women who work as managers and more men than women that are likely to leave the care profession for another profession with a higher salary.

Expect to become managers

Karlsen’ s thesis also reviews the social background and the type of education of the parents.

"Male nursing students have more often than women a father who is a nurse. Therefore he has been given an impression of what the profession may offer," she says.

Hilde Karlsen. (Photo: HiOA)

She reports of interesting findings when students are asked about work values.

"More women than men expect to work part-time, while more men than women expect to become managers. This reinforces the explanation of men aspiring for management positions; they are not just pushed into management positions because it is expected of them to become managers."

Leave for other jobs

It may seem paradoxical that committed and motivated male nurses still leave the profession. Karlsen believes she has part of the explanation.

"A choice of education is not a choice for life. Nursing education renders a wide range of exciting and challenging jobs. The women may not envisage an equally wide range of career possibilities as the men do," she says.

However, male nurses are not an unambiguous group. Non-western men have careers that resemble the careers of Norwegian women. Among other things, this means that they stay longer in the profession than ethnic Norwegian men.

"Perhaps they have poorer prerequisites to transfer nursing knowledge to other professions. Or they are not called in for an interview no matter how hard they try", says the researcher.

The reason might also be that they are interested in having a reliable job with a decent salary, something the nursing profession provides.

"My research indicates that non-western men with nursing education work more than Norwegian men with nursing education," says Karlsen.

Does not believe in stigmatisation

She has little belief in the explanation that men have a tendency to quit their job as nurses because they are pushed out of the profession due to stigmatisation:

"If being a man is the main reason for stigmatisation and exclusion, why do men with non-western immigrant background stay?"

The probability of these men leaving the profession should be just as high as Norwegian men leaving.

They might have chosen differently, but they are not different kind of men.
Hilde Karlsen, PhD candidate at HiOA

"Most men quit due to other reasons than career opportunities," says Karlsen.

Another theory is that men leave the profession because it is hard to be a male nurse.

"The negativity of this theory has been given too much space," she says.

The stereotypies prevail

There is a perception in the society that the profession is feminine and thus it is expected that men who choose this profession also are a bit feminine, according to Karlsen.

"No wonder so few men choose this profession when such stereotypies exist."

When she began the project, Karslen was preoccupied with getting an equal distribution of men and women in all professions. Her study has somewhat adjusted her ideas.

Karlsen believes that it is a misunderstanding that equal opportunity is the same as equality.

"I no longer strive to even the gender differences. I say this under the assumption that men and women in reality, not just on paper, have the same opportunities to choose the education, profession or job they want."

She thinks it is not enough that a society as a whole believe in equal gender distribution in all professions if men simply are not interested in becoming nurses, even though they in reality have the same opportunities as women to choose to become a nurse.

"The challenge today is the stereotypical perception that men who choose traditional female-dominated education and professions are «different» kind of men."

"Men choosing female-dominated professions are often perceived as having degraded themselves in status. It is a problem if such and similar stereotypies prevent a man from taking nursing education, even though he really wants to," Karlsen concludes.

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Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (HiOA) is Norway‘s largest state university college. Read more

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