Why Don't More Men Pursue Female-Dominated Professions?

(Photo:  American Red Cross Oregon Trail Chapter)

(Photo: American Red Cross Oregon Trail Chapter)

A reader named Albert Hickey writes:

I’m a father of three girls and I’m into technology. I keep hearing that there is a major bias toward men in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) at college and in the workforce.  I also regularly see blog posts, videos, interviews and podcasts where women are discussing how this is not right and that we need to have more equality in STEM. All good and more women in tech would be a good thing as women are major users of technology.

But it struck me that I have near heard of men fighting for more men to study traditionally female-dominated subjects or jobs like primary-school teacher, nurse, PR officers and therapists.

Why are women fighting for more women to do STEM while men are not fighting for more men to be therapists?

My quick response to him:

I’m guessing it’s b/c of the wage differential but you are right, it’s worth asking.

Albert wrote back with more detail:

There are I suspect as many men working in low-paid jobs that could benefit from becoming psychologists, P.R. officers or nurses.

The question is not so much why women are out there beating the drum to encourage more women to take up traditionally male-dominated jobs, but why aren’t men doing the same in the areas that men are underrepresented?

Is it just that:

1. Men have enough options already.
2. Men are selfish: “If I’m doing OK, why should I fight to better other peoples lives/or just change them?”
3. Because of long-standing sexual discrimination in the workplace, women are more use to being vocal about inequalities in the workforce.
4. Or is it something completely different.

Under the “something completely different” category, I’d include the possibility that some men see some jobs as simply too traditionally female to consider.

What do you all have to say?


As a man who has worked in female-dominated PR for almost 20 years, it is no fun at all.

The culture is geared completely to the advancement and preferences of women.

When I finally found an office with a male boss, I held on for dear life.

YC Lim

There could a "comparative advantage" type of factor that make gender-based specialisation economically sensible. Men will on average perform better than women in hauling heavy stuff and spatial sensing; women will on average perform better than men in task requiring heavy empathy and care-giving (but not reading maps).


You missed "men consider 'women's work' demeaning". Excess testosterone combined with macho culture to induce a mindset that makes many men reluctant to engage anything even vaguely feminine.

Anna Sellers

If I were to make a guess at the reasons, I would guess it is kind of #3 with a twist.

Women encourage each other to get into male dominated jobs, because they are not only helping themselves, they are helping their entire gender. There isn't as much of that going on for males. If my son says "I want to be a secretary," for example, some of the women in his life might encourage him, but the men in his life might tease him or suggest other occupations more suited to guys. In some ways, a decision like that might even be seen as discrediting the gender.


I think it depends on the office, I worked/working in PR. I think there is actually a bias towards men, at least when it comes to later promotions. The managing director was a guy, and more guys were in positions of power. When it came to the larger division, most of the main people were men. At least at that top 5 firm, it seemed like there were many men who rose faster than women. I think at the beginning it may be hard, but men have the advantage I think even there. Yes, in smaller offices I can see why it's hard, but maybe that has more to do with women being harder to work with sometimes when they're in positions of management. The profession is probably 90% women but many of the top people are men, so ultimately men have the upper hand. Women can probably just go into a low paying job that requires a lot out of you because the job attracts more pretty women who can hedge their bets and date, or marry, etc. The sky is not going to fall if they don't get paid much.


caitlyn (ladyphlogiston)

a related issue crops up in the baby name world - more and more parents of girls are choosing androgynous or even masculine names as "strong" names for their baby girls (think nicknames like Max, Sam, Charlie, a lot of the surname-names like Emerson or Addison, etc) with the result that parents of baby boys are increasingly unwilling to use androgynous names for their sons, and some originally-androgynous names are now entirely feminine. (A few go the other way, but it isn't as common.) (Search "androgynous" on the blog at babynamewizard for relevant articles and numbers.)

I think there's strong social pressure on man not to have traditionally-feminine traits (such as empathy) while women are being pushed to take on traditionally-masculine traits (such as social aggressiveness and decisiveness.) Which is a shame, since those are all useful traits and we all have them in varying amounts, but such is life.



I am currently writing this quick response from a lecture about creativity in Early years teaching, a profession I am currently pursuing. Naturally, in this class of thirty or so prospective teachers, I am the only male.

I can only speak for myself here, but despite the seemingly obvious factors (Children are hillarious, stable job, good holidays) my transition into early years teaching relies heavily on the fact that I am indeed the only male in my group, and that (hopefully) this will make me stand out as a commodity when it comes to future employment. There is currently a push from various universities to persuade more male candidates to pursue a career in the Early years, and I would be lying if I said that potential for employment was not a factor when I first applied for this post. For others, this may not be the case, and I'm sure the factors are entirely different for a strong female applying for traditionally male dominated positions.


Joe J

Had talked to a young man who had just switched majors out of education. He said in the first week 3 different women had asked if he was a pedophile.

A man who fights for his rights in this world looks like a bully. And is treated as a mysoginist.

Peter from Boston

My background: My mother was the breadwinner as an accountant. My father stayed at home for over 5 years, worked as a mechanic, detention officer and police officer. My wife is an elementary school teacher and I am an engineer.

I decided to be an engineer because of the wage and lifestyle. I wanted to live in suburbia, never work as an unpaid intern or low paid assistant and I wanted to make a lot of money. I wanted to make something, a product and not just move money from one place to another and collect a fee where appropriate.

My wife has always wanted to be a teacher. She works way more hours than I do (at least 60), loves her job, is loved by parents, other teachers, etc., but doesn't make much money. Also, with unions, she will never get a big pay increase, and my salary will rise and eventually double hers.

From a personal standpoint, I see a higher percentage of men being more monetarily driven and women really wanting to pursue some kind of passion. Men don't have to like their jobs to be happy, but women are miserable if they hate their jobs. My mother and father are the opposite for the most part. My mother has never loved her job whereas my father has always loved working on cars and loved his time as a cop.

Let's think about my wife and I. It's hard to be an engineer. It's a different kind of hard to be a teacher. Many people drop out of engineering programs because they fail tests or don't want to do the work. People drop out of the track for being a teacher, but it seems to be a lot easier to become a teacher. Although the daily grind as a teacher is likely tougher than an engineer, getting to that point is more difficult as an engineer. Yes, my wife has her master's degree and works her tail off, but think of how many people you know who are teachers vs engineers.

If the salaries were reversed, I would have gladly gone into teaching and not engineering. Engineering was tough in college (for me). While teaching is certainly much harder now for my wife, I would go into teaching in a heartbeat if the pay was there.



• PR officers, nurses, and therapists on average all earn significantly more than the national annual salary average. Teachers earn slightly more and have very good benefits. It's not money.
• A male elementary teacher will be perceived as a potential pedophile.


I think there are a very small number of women (albeit they may be very vocal) who care that STEM jobs are dominated by men, and an even smaller number of men that care that women dominated jobs are the way they are. The difference is just that people tend not to give much credence to a cry of inequality coming from a majority.

Separately, I do not think there is much to analyze in regards to why certain industries are dominated by one gender; it is just simply that more men prefer/enjoy STEM industry work and more women prefer/enjoy nursing elementary education. Out of the hundred or so women that I know, I would be surprised if more than 1 or 2 of them had any interest in STEM industry jobs.

Fred Bush

I think that the pay level is low for the amount of education required for all of these jobs.

Fred Bush

Some evidence for my claim about pay: at monster.com, the masters in social work, counseling, and education are three of the five "worst-paying master's degrees". A fourth is library science, another female-dominated field. http://career-advice.monster.com/salary-benefits/salary-information/best-and-worst-paying-masters-degrees/article.aspx

For PR, looks like the same problem: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/college-finance/graduate-degrees-dont-pay-off.aspx#slide=4

Eric M. Jones

I doubt the wage differential has much to do with it. I suspect it is just a matter of culture more than anything else. Why don't men wear dresses? Are pants cheaper?

There ARE legitimate reasons for a sex split in some occupations, but these are fewer and fewer. Wet nurses...sperm donors...not much else.

Anthony Torres

Interesting observation. As a Computer Science graduate myself I know the men in the STEM career paths would definitely support higher female enrolment in these degrees. Personally, I'm convinced there is no discrimination against females in STEM degrees, at least in the countries I have first hand experience of. So when this selection happens, happens significantly before students reach high school level.

Could there be a single vs multitasking preference? A difference in expectations of empathy between men and women? Peer pressure from groups of male vs female friends? I found that most women in CS degrees had grown up with many male friends and were self-described tomboys.

Definitely interesting topic, and I would love to hear a social scientist's opinion.


Im in banking and work in an office with me and 4 women. It is an absolute nightmare. The office is run on feeling, emotions and opinions, which vary based on amount of sleep, arvuement with husband and kids, time of day and month, instead of facts and logic. Trying to reason with them is like trying to convince a person with schizophrenia that the voices in their head arent real. They believe what they believe is true bc they believe its true. Thats their logic. And their is a huve amount of nagging. My point is that I doubt I will ever work for a woman or at a female dominated workplace again based on this and previous experience. Call it zexist if you want but thats my opinion which is based on the facts.


Because few women really think it is sexy for a man to do a job perceived as feminine. In the end we all just want to have the great career and the power to get female attention, it's biology. I think a lot of men would rather say they work as a police officer instead of saying they are a nurse. Even though nurses get paid a lot more.


Having worked as a nurse for 5 years before going into software I don't know. It was a great job. Mind you I worked in the ER which is where a vast majority of men in nursing work. I got paid more than my girlfriend back then who was also a nurse and the women treated me better. The doctors treated me different which is to say better. It was rather eye opening.

But to get to the question as to why men don't pursue it they don't pursue it because of the stereotypes. I can't tell you how many times other guys look and say "a nurse!!!". It is ok "culturally" for a man to be a paramedic which pays less than to be a nurse. Perhaps the body fluids thing has something to do with it also. It can be seen as "womens" work. Why are men afraid to change a diaper? Simply put society pigeon holes people into gender specific roles which transcends into the work place and the jobs we take.


Take child care as an example. Here in the UK there's a shortage of male role-models, especially for male kids from single mother homes. Pay is certainly an issue but the biggest barrier is sexual stereotyping. Parents are suspicious of males, attributing sexual motivations for wanting to work with kids. I know of parents who refuse to let a man change their kid's crappy nappies/diapers. Outrageous.

There are also sexual assumptions about males in caring professions being gay as if straight men could otherwise not be 'caring'.

Men have a greater amount of kudos attached to work in society as a whole. So a straight man in a caring profession is could be seen as less attractive to women. He'll certainly have to deal with these horribly out-dated stereotypes. "Caring Lady funeral director" anyone?

So I take it to be a mix of 3 and 4 Albert. My boys came home from school years ago with pamphlets about girls going into engineering and so on. And that's great stuff, but there was nothing about boys breaking the caring taboos. It should start at school and build on the great work done in broadening opportunities for women. Clearly society as a whole would benefit.


Kiaser Zohsay

My wife is a recent nursing school graduate, and enjoys her work. Her classmates were predominately female. However, there are a number of specific tasks inherent to the job that males are better suited for (heavy lifting, as it were) so hospitals need to keep a certain number of males on staff. As a result, male nurses can sometimes earn better wages by filling this niche-within-a-niche market.