A University of Louisville assistant economics professor is getting national attention for her research into why more men are becoming nurses, a career that has long been overwhelmingly dominated by females.
Elizabeth Munnich and fellow researcher Abigail Wozniak of the University of Notre Dame recently published a working paper through the Washington Center for Equitable Growth on occupational segregation, in which one demographic group is over- or under-represented among different kinds of work. The paper has been the subject of a Wall Street Journal blog and a story in the Louisville Business First; a New York Times piece is upcoming.
Munnich and Wozniak found that the share of male nurses has risen from 2.2 percent in 1960 to 13 percent in 2015.
The paper documents that men have not been going into other female-dominated careers, such as teachers, bank tellers and physicians’ assistants, at greater rates.
“Up until the 19th century, many men entered nursing,” Munnich said, “but during the Industrial Revolution, they were kept out by legal barriers and cultural mores. When manufacturing jobs began to disappear, things started to shift. Nursing, by and large, offers a better wage without requiring the investment of a bachelor’s degree. It also can become a later-in-life career choice because there are more and more non-hospital programs available to obtain a nursing degree after a person has worked for a time in another career.”
Notably, since 1990, median earning levels for RNs have been on par with college-equivalent workers while earnings for men with a high school degree have been declining. Another substantial factor in nursing’s attraction to men may be the shift in gender norms, the researchers said.
The researchers concluded additional research is needed to determine what makes nursing uniquely attractive to men compared to other female-dominated industries.
Because occupations with more men tend to pay better regardless of skill or education level, reducing occupational segregation will reduce the gender wage gap and contribute to higher family incomes, the researchers said. They emphasized that when jobs match a workers’ innate talents rather than perceptions of which occupations correspond to which gender identifications, labor force participation will go up, and productivity and growth will rise accordingly.