A year ago, employment prospects for men were bleak. The economy’s nosedive had affected a disproportionate number of men, eliminating millions of jobs in the finance, manufacturing, and construction sectors, all male-dominated areas. Meanwhile, demand for nurturing professions like nursing and childcare increased.
The respective decline and growth in male and female employment prompted fear that men may never bounce back. In “The End of Men,” Hanna Rosin dissected the gender shift in employment and higher education:
What if the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men? For a long time, evolutionary psychologists have claimed that we are all imprinted with adaptive imperatives from a distant past: men are faster and stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources, and that shows up now as a drive to win on Wall Street; women are programmed to find good providers and to care for their offspring, and that is manifested in more-nurturing and more-flexible behavior, ordaining them to domesticity. This kind of thinking frames our sense of the natural order. But what if men and women were fulfilling not biological imperatives but social roles, based on what was more efficient throughout a long era of human history? What if that era has now come to an end? More to the point, what if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?
Rosin goes on to explain that men dominate only two of the 15 job categories (janitorial work and computer engineering) that researchers have projected to grow over the next 10 years. Women, however, dominate the other categories, including nursing, home health assistance, childcare, and food preparation.
But then 2010 happened, and men saw an uptick in employment as the manufacturing sector recovered. Women, comparatively, gained very few jobs last year.
In a new piece for Time, Rana Foroohar asks, “Is this the end of the mancession?” Not necessarily, the writer argues, while cautioning that the gains for men in 2010 don’t mean that women will now find themselves facing severe unemployment, too. The male-dominated workforce may have experienced a temporary upswing, but ultimately, women are more poised for long-term employment success:
The macro-economic trend lines throughout the world simply support more female employment. In many countries, including the U.S. and a number of emerging markets, women are better educated than men and hold more college degrees. They start businesses at a faster rate, and given that new business creates the majority of jobs in this country, female employers are in a good position to hire other women.
The updated numbers reflecting male gains in employment last year are encouraging. But they understate an important part of the bigger picture: Men didn’t gain those jobs in the more nurturing, projected-to-grow industries. They gained the jobs in areas where they’ve always dominated—manufacturing and construction. As Foroohar points out, construction and manufacturing work is cyclical, and the 2010 upturn isn’t a reliable predictor for future years. If men are going to resist employment trends, they’re going to have to stop resisting jobs more traditionally held by women. Rosin:
Many professions that started out as the province of men are now filled mostly with women—secretary and teacher come to mind. Yet I’m not aware of any that have gone the opposite way. Nursing schools have tried hard to recruit men in the past few years, with minimal success. Teaching schools, eager to recruit male role models, are having a similarly hard time. The range of acceptable masculine roles has changed comparatively little, and has perhaps even narrowed as men have shied away from some careers women have entered.
Whether it’s a result of gender stereotyping that says men don’t belong in nurturing and caregiving roles or a biological disadvantage to thrive in those nurturing roles, men should work to overcome these hang-ups and pursue employment that strays from traditionally masculine professions. That way men can work toward a more sustainable future, where their employment success and longevity aren’t overshadowed by that of women.