Does it Cost Men to Care?

By Janette Dill, Kim Price-Glynn, and Carter Rakovski *

Occupations that have a large percentage of female workers – what we call feminized occupations – typically pay less than occupations with a predominately male workforce, even when the jobs require similar skill sets or education. And feminized occupations that require providing care for other people, called care work, are even more devalued. On the other hand, when men enter feminized occupations, past research has shown that they often experience a “glass escalator” effect, which raises their wages and opportunities for promotion as compared to their female counterparts. We were curious about what happens when men enter a feminized care work occupation. We know that care work occupations are devalued, which would lead us to expect that men working in care work occupations would make lower wages as compared to men in other occupations. However, men may enjoy the benefits of the “glass escalator” in feminized care work occupations, which may help to compensate for the devaluation of care work and boost their wages.

To explore whether men experience a “wage penalty” for performing care work in today’s economy, or whether the “glass escalator” helps to mitigate the devaluation of care work occupations, we used longitudinal data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation for the years 1996-2011. We focus on care work occupations in the health care sector that typically do not require a four-year college degree, which we refer to as frontline health care occupations, as a case study for examining the careers of low- and middle-skill men in care work occupations. Frontline direct care occupations typically require a limited amount of post-high school training or a vocational certificate and include workers such as nursing assistants, patient care technicians, and home health workers. Frontline allied health occupations usually require an associate’s degree or equivalent training and include workers such as respiratory therapists, ultrasound technicians, and surgical technicians.

 On one hand, our findings tell a story about men in frontline health care occupations that is consistent with past research on the devaluation of care work. When we looked at men who were direct care workers, or those care workers who provide a high level of hands-on care for patients, we found that men across all racial/ethnic groups experienced a “wage penalty” as compared to the general male workforce. When we made comparisons between occupations, we found that direct care workers earned 10 percent less than their blue-collar counterparts in production occupations. This suggests that even in today’s economy, where manufacturing jobs have declined in availability and job quality, men in direct care occupations still experience a substantial “wage penalty” for working in a feminized care work occupation.

On the other hand, there were suggestions throughout our findings that men did experience some advantages in frontline health care occupations. For example, when we looked descriptively at the data, monthly earnings went up consistently over time for both direct care and frontline allied health workers, while men in service, administrative and office, construction, and production occupations experienced stagnant or declining wages in later cohorts. Rising earnings over time for men in frontline health care occupations may help to compensate for the devaluation of care work occupations.

Further, we found that frontline allied health workers did not have earnings that were significantly lower than the general male workforce. In fact, when we controlled for occupation, we found that frontline allied health workers had earnings that were significantly higher (22 percent) than workers in production occupations. These findings lend support to the idea that, at least within frontline allied health occupations, the “glass escalator” may help to mitigate the devaluation of care work, resulting in earnings that are not lower than other occupations.

To summarize, we find that men who are in occupations that are most strongly associated with “women’s work” – direct care work occupations – experience a “penalty for caring.” However, frontline allied health workers do not suffer from the same wage disadvantages and are, in fact, better off than many blue-collar workers. Consequently, while we find some evidence that the devaluation of care work is reflected in the careers of men in frontline health care occupations, there is also evidence that the advantages that men assume in the world of work and the conditions of today’s economy help to overcome the devaluation of care work occupations.

* The Gender & Society article entitled “Does the “Glass Escalator” Compensate for the Devaluation of Care Work Occupations? The Careers of Men in Low- and Middle-Skill Health Care Jobs” can be found here.

Janette Dill, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Akron. She researches job quality and career mobility in today’s economy, particularly for low- and middle-skill workers. Her current research focuses on the development of career ladders in health care organizations for low-level health care workers.  

Kim Price-Glynn, PhD, is Associate Professor of Sociology and Urban and Community Studies at the University of Connecticut. She was the inaugural recipient of the University of Connecticut College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Faculty Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Social Sciences.  Her research examines gender, labor, health, and caregiving in diverse organizational settings, from nursing homes to strip clubs.  She is the author of Strip Club: Gender, Power and Sex Work, New York University Press (2010).

Carter Rakovski, PhD, is Associate Professor of Sociology at California State University Fullerton.   She studies gender and work. She also applies statistical methods in her interdisciplinary work. Her research has been published in a range of journals including the Sociology of Health and Illness, Work, Employment and Society, Disability and Rehabilitation, and the Journal of Accounting Research.

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