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?

Mark B

Men are judged on primarily their earnings, women are judged primarily on their appearance. That's why women have more plastic surgery and use more makeup than men and men are drawn to higher paying jobs. As Nursing wages go up, you can count on the gap to close. As the downward pressure increases on teaching wages the gap will widen.

Howard Brazee

We see lots of other instances where society has pressures against men and boys doing things that are womanly or girly.


There's an interesting article on the nursing profession by Hirch and Schumacher. They don't specifically discuss males entering the nursing profession, but try to investigate why more people do not enter nursing, male and female, given that there is a shortage of nurses, and given the educational/socioeconomic background of a typical nurses, the salaries of nurses are high.

Underpaid or Overpaid? Wage Analysis for Nurses Using Job and Worker Attributes (link to working paper: http://ftp.iza.org/dp3833.pdf)


Women tend to be attracted to jobs that don't change much if they have to take time off to have children. It's hard to get into a cutting edge tech field when you may have to take months off every few years.


I think there is another component to the "something completely different" which plays as much as any other factor, and that is flexibility. Women tend to self-select toward jobs which offer more flexibility in scheduling either for personal preference or due to additional constraints that men are not beholden to. When a child gets sick at school, typically it is the mother who takes off to take the child to the doctor. And men are unable to become pregnant, thus not disrupting productivity to their employer for a spell. Obviously, this is all painted with a broad brush, but the constraints of motherhood lead to more women choosing careers that are flexible enough to allow for the vaguaries of daily life. Additionally, this plays into the wage gap as women in general are more likely to miss time at the office to men in general, at the detriment to any specific woman's earning potential. This, in turn, is a negative externality toward women striving toward jobs in STEM since their pay will lag their male counterparts for the same time and monetary costs of achieving the degree for such a job.


Jeff T

I work in an Elementary School, and have been at three different sites in our district, we average about 10% men. The kids need men on campus just like kids need a father and mother. There will be some discrimination at times like any male or female dominated field, but the kids like men as much as women.


I'm amazed that no one has mentioned this already. Women are much better trained at reading human body language. This does not mean that men cannot achieve the same level of performance but women have an advantage.

The reason this advantage exists is explained in a book called the definitive book of body language by Allan and Barbara Pease.

In short, women have been training for centuries in this, because a new born baby cannot communicate with the world with any other means other than body language so the mother needs to be able to read the signs to keep it alive.

Many female-dominated jobs rely heavily on this skill.


Not just reading the baby but overall, the female of any species is female because of the ability to nurture the offspring. Which means they would normally look for safety over more risky behaviour (which explains the taxi question below as well as the main question of the article). Women are also, therefore, naturally attuned to check body language in everyone including in other women, for signs of danger and signs of safety.


On the topic of genders and occupations, it struck me this weekend - why aren't there more female cab drivers?


I think it is because of the daily stress and how it affects the body. There is also the danger of the kind of passengers who get into the car and the places they take you to. It's not that most men would be able to handle such events but that most women may not be able to handle such events.

Don Bosman

Men are discouraged from becoming primary school teachers by the education enterprise. Largely due to the perceived threat to the men. A pattern of simple hugs, which many kids need, can get a male teacher labeled a pedophile.


The article has conjectures from 2 people, that's all. Nothing to make it to the freakonomics page.

I would disagree with most of those conjectures except the money bit.

Any higher paying job would need sacrifices at home. Women may be unable or unwilling to sustain themselves in such jobs. So, there will be more men in such jobs, like it or not. And women not willing to make that sacrifice at home may actually be a good thing overall for the society as the child growing up with the mother is better than the child growing up with the nanny. The husband coming home to a loving wife will nurture their relationship than if both are stressed out.


I think that men and women want to do different types of jobs because they are genetically different. On the average, a man wants to be an engineer, or build a building, or run a company. But, on the average, a man doesn't want to be a nurse or a caretaker.

There is nothing conspiratorial about this. It's not a result of prejudice or cultural pressure, etc.

These are generalizations and I am speaking on the average.

Having written this, you can not determine if I am a man or woman by the content of my comment. So, before you start accusing me one way or the other, please realize that you might be wrong about my gender.


Complaining about not having jobs in STEM - Yes!
Studying STEM related subjects at college - Heck no!

Mind you my view is limited to to my experience and that is that women rarely study engineering and similar subjects.