You are here

Labour market segregation - Men in nursing

Edited on

27 April 2021
Read time: 5 minutes

As our second speaker for our March master class session on Labour market segregation, we had invited Dr. Marci Cottingham from the university of Amsterdam to speak about her research on men in nursing and care professions.

Women still today tend to work within sectors that are already dominated by women. In these sectors women tend to have a lower income and possibilities to make a career in comparison to men. Research has shown that men that go into a so-called female-dominated professions tend to get more perks and are more likely to be promoted than women working within the same sector. Men ride on a "glass escalator" within these professions while women tend to hit a "glass ceiling” which makes it hard for them to reach positions of power. In the last few decades, the number of women that have gone into higher education has increased, which has made it possible for women to go into so-called male-dominated professions such as law and medicine. However, we do not see the same shift when it comes to men going into more traditionally female-dominated professions such as nursing. Dr. Cottingham calls this a “one-way street” of integration of the labour market.

Currently there are only 16% of the nurses working in Europe that are male. Europe together with America is the two regions in the world that have the lowest representation of men within the profession of nursing. Looking at the historical reasons there has always been an assumption that women are more suited to care while men are more suited to cure. This is one of the reasons why we see a lot more women in the profession of nursing, while physicians to a higher extent have been represented by the male part of the population.

Professions that are associated with women are perceived as less prestigious and with lower pay which makes the profession less attractive. There are also other factors that can explain the low representation of men in nursing. As mentioned before women are historically perceived to be more caring than men which implies that they are better suited to be within a caring profession such as nursing. Dr. Cottingham’s research found that some of the men that have chosen to go into nursing have been perceived as “suspicious”. One of the men that was interviewed by Dr. Cottingham told a story from university where his professor told him that:

“I don’t think that men should be in nursing, and I won't assign you to a female patient because I know what you’ll do…”.

This is one example of how men are being perceived as hyper heterosexual and therefore not being able to touch or care for a patient in a suitable way. This type of perception can reinforce the norm that men are not suitable to be nurses solely based on their gender. There have been several campaigns directed towards men to get them into nursing where the underlying meaning has been that a man can still be a man even if he is a nurse. Time will tell if these campaigns are successful to recruit more men into the profession of nursing. The question that we then can ask ourselves is: If men start to get more into nursing will they keep riding the glass escalator and rise while women stay under the glass ceiling?