Much of the labor market is segregated by gender. More than one-third of men (36%) work in occupations that are at least 80% male, and 31% of women work in occupations that are at least 80% female, according to the U.S. Census. The labor market continues to shift away from traditionally male jobs toward traditionally female jobs: the two broad sectors that are projected to lose jobs over the next decade — manufacturing and agriculture — are both majority male, while the fastest-growing sector — health care — is dominated by women. (All employment projections in this post are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
These shifts away from traditionally male jobs are one reason that the employment-population ratio for prime-age men has been falling for decades. Women’s employment, by contrast, climbed through the second half of the 20th century as many women entered the labor force. Since 2000, though, the decline in the prime-age employment-population ratio has been similar for men and women. And, of course, numerous other inequities persist: women still face a gender pay gap, and they are ten times as likely as men not to be employed because they’re caring for others.
A debate rages over what can be done about the loss of traditionally male jobs. One response is is to try to bring them back, but that’s probably impossible: even if manufacturing output increased, it would not provide as many or the same kinds of jobs as it did in the past thanks to automation and globalization. Another view is that men should take more traditionally female jobs. But several explanations have been offered for why more men don’t move into fast-growing “pink-collar” jobs: some commenters point out that those jobs don’t necessarily pay as well; one observer has suggested that men might not be that good at them; while another recently argued that being told to take traditionally female jobs can be perceived as an affront to “manly dignity.”
For many men, however, the choice won’t be as limited as tomorrow’s nursing job or yesterday’s manufacturing job. Although traditionally female jobs will on average grow faster than traditionally male jobs, there are still many fast-growing occupations where men are the majority.
Occupations that buck the trend: booming men’s jobs, shrinking women’s jobs
Across the economy overall, occupations that are more than 80% female are projected to grow fastest, at nearly twice the rate of jobs that are at least 60% male, according to the latest predictions from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). And the specific occupations expected to grow fastest — such as occupational therapy assistants, physical therapy assistants, and nurse practitioners — are mostly held by women.
But plenty of traditionally male jobs will expand, too. Among occupations that are at least 60% male, ambulance drivers are expected to have the fastest growth, and another healthcare-related occupation, emergency medical technician, is also on the top-ten list. Several computer- and finance-related occupations, like personal financial advisor and web developer, are predicted to grow quickly as well. (Of course the gender mix of either male-dominated or female-dominated jobs might change in the future, due to changing job-seeker interest or employer recruiting practices.)
On the flip side: even though the fastest growing occupations skew toward those that are typically held by women, some traditionally female-dominated jobs are also at risk. Some of these are clearly being replaced by technology, like telephone operators, word processors (yes, kids, that’s a job title, not just a computer application or defunct machine), and travel agents; several others are related to apparel manufacturing.
Yet the unemployed man who lost his factory job isn’t going to become a biomedical engineer just because that’s another male-dominated field. Education and skills matter in any discussion of the job market, and that’s especially true when looking at gender and work.
Opportunities for men without college degrees
For men and for women, the least-educated fare worst in the job market. Unemployment is highest for those with a high school degree or less, and health issues keep the least educated out of the workforce, regardless of sex.
But when it comes to gender and work, education plays out differently for men. Less-educated men are dramatically more likely to be in male-dominated occupations than more educated men. Half of men with a high school diploma or less work in occupations that are overwhelmingly (that is, more than four-fifths) male, compared with 20% of men with bachelor’s degrees and 11% of men with graduate or professional degrees. That’s why one sharp observer of the working class and the 2016 election argued that the suggestion that men retrain as caregivers can come across as elitist cluelessness.
The pattern is different for women, who are most likely to work in overwhelmingly female occupations if they have some college or an associate’s degree (that’s the norm for many female-dominated healthcare occupations like licensed practical nurses and dental hygienists).
Therefore, fast-growing male jobs that require lots of education don’t really help men without a college degree who have been in traditionally male jobs and for whom work is part of male identity. And the challenge is that traditionally male jobs requiring less education are projected to grow slowly. Whereas ten-year job growth overall is projected to be 6.5%, and growth in male-dominated (at least 60% men) jobs is projected to be 5.1%, growth in male-dominated jobs where most workers don’t have a bachelor’s degree is projected at just 4.3%. As a result, there are relatively few fast-growing occupations that are traditionally male and are open to workers with less education. Still, there are some, and here are the fastest-growing among them:
These fastest-growing male-dominated jobs where workers tend not to have college degrees fall into three types. First are two health-related jobs: ambulance drivers and emergency medical technicians. The health needs of our aging population make these a safe bet. Second are several building-related jobs, like brickmasons, electricians, and millwrights, though these occupations are tied to the fate of the boom-and-bust construction industry. Finally, computer control programmer and operator jobs are projected to grow 18%, nearly three times the rate of job growth overall. What are these jobs? They are the people who program and operate automated machine tools — robots — that work with metal and plastic parts.
As traditionally male jobs grow at a slower rate in the future, some men will surely embrace traditionally female roles, and automation will change the very nature of occupations across many sectors. But there will also be opportunities in growing, traditionally male roles, even for those without college degrees. Men — and women — with less education who want traditionally male jobs will find opportunities created by medical emergencies, housing demand, and robots needing supervision.