Discrimination is understandably not a word that carries a respectable connotation. As the act of treating people differently based on their personal characteristics, discrimination can bestow privilege on some and not others based on unearned distinctions. But although the practice of discrimination is generally frowned upon, it is not always unreasonable. In economics, price discrimination is generally lawful because it is not often harmful to competition, and competition is good for consumers. As explained by the Federal Trade Commission, firms may charge different prices that ‘reflect the different costs of dealing with different buyers or are the result of a seller’s attempts to meet a competitor’s offering.’ Senior citizen discounts and student discounts are examples that show society is not always ready to repudiate discrimination.
Of course, one need only recall Jim Crow laws, which legalized discrimination against African-Americans, to appreciate that discrimination can meet with society’s approval but be completely without merit. But progress in history is inexorable, and as the culture evolved and the belief in white supremacy eroded, Jim Crow laws went into the dustbin of history, replaced by laws that ensured civil rights to all races (though the legacy of institutional racism remains with us). Similar developments have benefited women and the LGBT community. As a rule, discrimination based on sex, race, age, sexual orientation, disability, and other personal characteristics has become taboo.
But though it has become taboo, discrimination based on these characteristics is nonetheless all too often tacitly condoned. Racial profiling is one obvious example, but then there are cases when the ethical considerations are more ambiguous than the examples above suggest, when one skirts the line between having a good reason to discriminate and still feeling uneasy when fessing up to it.
My fiancée Kara and I are currently discriminating against men. We are in the process of hiring a nanny for our five-month-old daughter. We have interviewed several candidates, and as expected, some have been better than others. We look for standard qualifications like years of experience in infant care, CPR certification, and a clean background check. We gauge personal chemistry between us and the potential nanny. We assess how our daughter responds to her potential caretaker.
We have interviewed several women. Old and young. White and black. Gay and straight. But no men.
This is, in part, a function of the culture in which we live. Recent research suggests that men are less interested in jobs that employ mostly women. Jobs like home health care aides, which happen to be among the fastest growing jobs in the economy, employ mostly females, in part because job descriptions ask for ‘feminine’ qualities like ‘caring’ and ‘empathetic’, which are not traditionally seen as typical male characteristics. Judging by the dearth of male candidates on nanny websites like Sittercity.com and Care.com, the same presumption would seem to be true of nanny jobs, though some nanny placement companies have reported a recent uptick in the placement of so-called ‘mannies’, or male nannies, and men comprise approximately ten percent of the nanny workforce.
There is another reason, however, that we are not considering male candidates. Statistically speaking, perpetrators of child molestation are more likely to be male. For example, according to the Child Molestation Research & Prevention Institute, ‘[a]n estimated one in 20 teenage boys and adult men sexually abuse children, and an estimated one teenage girl or adult woman in every 3,300 females molests children.’
This is a vast discrepancy in the likelihood that a child molester is male or female. This does not mean every male candidate is a potential abuser, and there’s always the possibility a female candidate could turn out to be abusive. It also does not mean that statistics on the general population necessarily apply to the population of nanny candidates.
On the latter point, one might presume that the likelihood of sexual abuse is higher in the nanny population because a potential child predator would more likely be drawn to nanny employment, since a nanny position gives a potential predator access to children. Assuming this is true, however, we could employ a background check to weed out potential abusers. But the data still make us extremely cautious about leaving our daughter alone with a male caretaker. I know women who have been sexually abused as girls, and there are two lessons I have learned from their experiences: (1) perpetrators of abuse tend to be people who are close to the victim, such as a relative or caretaker, and (2) the detours one takes in life as a result of sexual trauma during childhood do not, to put it mildly, lead to healthy long-term outcomes.
Like any other parents, Kara and I will never be able to eliminate the risk for our daughter. Moreover, it is certainly true that not every male nanny is a potential child molester and not every female nanny is pure and innocent. But we want to minimize the risk, just as an investor intent on preserving capital wants to minimize the risk of loss of capital. Given the data, we believe we can minimize the risk by excluding male candidates from consideration.
This is admittedly unfortunate for qualified male candidates, and we regret that good male candidates are tainted by suspicions that arise from the criminal trespasses of a small percentage of the population. But if the dearth of male applicants on Sittercity.com and Care.com is any indication, not many males are in the market to be a nanny. For those who are in the market, there are families willing to hire them, and I have even seen anecdotal evidence that single moms with sons sometimes prefer a ‘manny’ so that their sons can have a male role model. Moreover, for families considering a ‘manny’, Whattoexpect.com delineates several advantages to hiring one: for example, men can serve as a ‘protector’ or a ‘high-energy pal’ for young boys.
We wish these families, and their male nannies, well. Perhaps we will reconsider and eventually hire a male nanny, but for now, as the parents of an infant daughter, we are only in the market for female nannies.
Photo credit: Getty Images