A new study finds evidence that occupational gender bias has consequences for men who may consider entering healthcare, early education, or domestic fields (HEED). The findings indicate that men avoid HEED careers because they expect discrimination and worry about acceptance and judgment of others. The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, sheds light on the complexities of occupational gender bias and its societal repercussions.
The underrepresentation of men in specific roles is an issue that affects not only men themselves but also women, children, and society as a whole. Men’s reluctance to engage in these fields can negatively affect their mental, physical, and relational well-being.
Furthermore, the absence of male teachers in early education can perpetuate gender stereotypes and suggest that caregiving is a women’s job. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the factors behind men’s underrepresentation in these areas and address them to ensure their full participation.
Studies have found that men face discrimination when they display knowledge or skills related to traditionally feminine roles, particularly in HEED fields. Male nurses and early elementary educators are more susceptible to harassment, rejection, and workplace bullying. In addition, male educators in early elementary education are considered less likable and employable than their female counterparts.
“It’s a detriment to society if we keep slotting people into gendered roles and stay the course on gender-segregated career paths, regardless of whether those jobs are traditionally associated with women or men,” said lead researcher Corinne Moss-Racusin, an associate professor of psychology at Skidmore College. “That’s a powerful way of reinforcing the traditional gender status quo.”
In their study, Racusin and colleagues sought to examine whether gender prejudices against men are a factor in their low representation in HEED. They recruited 571 participants who were presented with a news article discussing gender biases towards men, gender equality in HEED, or no article (as a control group). Afterward, they reported their anticipated discrimination in HEED fields, sense of belonging, positive attitudes toward HEED, aspirations to participate in HEED
The researchers found that men who read about anti-male gender bias in HEED anticipated more discrimination and had a lower sense of belonging, positivity, and aspirations to participate in these fields than women. This difference may be attributed to the sense of belonging being more crucial for men’s engagement in HEED fields, and gender bias tends to undermine this sense of belonging.
Gender stereotypes are reinforced by unequal progress toward diversifying occupations, which results in women being overrepresented in care-oriented work. In order to achieve gender equality, the researchers said, it is necessary to ensure that women have equal opportunities in traditionally male-dominated fields such as STEM while also creating opportunities for men to work in historically feminine/HEED positions. Simply diversifying traditionally masculine domains is not enough to achieve gender equality.
“It’s a detriment to society if we keep slotting people into gendered roles and stay the course on gender-segregated career paths, regardless of whether those jobs are traditionally associated with women or men,” Moss-Racusin said in a news release. “That’s a powerful way of reinforcing the traditional gender status quo.”
The research indicates that addressing gender bias can help involve men in HEED work and lessen gender-based occupational inequality. Gender segregation contributes to maintaining stereotypes and the prevailing hierarchy.
Several limitations in the study may impact the findings’ generalizability. For example, the study relied on expected outcomes instead of actual behavior, which raises doubts about how the findings reflect actual conduct. The study did not investigate how stereotypical expectations regarding race, gender, and other marginalized groups affect men’s interest in gender counterstereotypical work. Furthermore, the study used sample groups that did not represent the racial demographics of the United States.
Moss-Racusin and colleagues suggest that these results provide the first evidence that men are discouraged from pursuing occupations that do not conform to gender stereotypes. Gender equality can help bridge the gap in HEED engagement and disprove the notion that men lack interest or aptitude for care-oriented work.
“There’s no evidence that men are biologically incapable of doing this work or that men and women are naturally oriented toward different careers,” Moss-Racusin said. “Both men and women are deterred by gender biases they may face in different industries, which is understandable.”
The study, “Gender equality eliminates gender gaps in engagement with female-stereotypic domains“, was authored by Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, Samantha A. Rapp, Sophie S. Brown, Kerry A. O’Brien, and Alyssa Croft.