In a dental office in New York, one of the warm, comforting dental hygienists wearing baby pink scrubs and a reassuring smile settles the small and terrified child into the large dental chair. Conventional wisdom convinces society that the reassuring hygienist is a woman. Contrary to how most would picture this scene, the dental hygienist is male. He represents just one of the many men that participated in the gradual shift to the pink collar industry. Coined in the 1970's, the phrase “pink collar work” refers to industries that retain workforces of at least seventy percent women. While the diversification of gender in pink collar work remains minimal, men continue to make gradual progress. Commonly associated jobs with pink collar work include dental hygienists, nurses, childcare workers, teachers, and paralegals. Fields that once occupied solely females are now viewed as gender neutral. Increased male involvement in the pink collar industry results from the alteration of life aspirations and economic standards. Combined, these components allow society to ponder what it means for manhood to clash with femininity and economic equality.
The phrase “tough guys wear pink” has recently taken on a whole new meaning with a rising number of men donning pink collars in the workforce. While male representation remains modest, men today represent far more pink collar positions than their fathers and grandfathers. Nursing, perhaps one of the most rapidly developing industries, consequently employs the vast majority of men who made the switch. In 1970, the number of male registered nurses hovered around 2.7 percent found the latest U.S. Census Bureau report. This number is attributed to a number of reasons ranging from social stigma to nursing schools not accepting male applicants. Today, according to Richard V. Reeves and Isabel V. Sawhill, senior fellows at the Brookings Institution in Washington, the current percentage triples the of 1970, at 9%. Additionally, men today represent 20% of all elementary and middle school teachers. Compared to data collected by Men Teach in 2002 when they only represented 17% of all elementary and middle school teachers. These increases, while gradual, represent a greater trend that shows no sign of slowing. With men freed from the constraints of blue collar work, they can enjoy benefits associated with pink collar professions. The progress attained in the integration of these fields serve as a precursor to what lies ahead.
All this is powered by a surge in knowledge women have turned the tables of the twenty first century. They are receiving the prestigious positions, they are becoming the breadwinners, and they are dominating majority of the labor market. According to Pew Research Center's report "In Educational Attainment, Millennial Women Outpace Men", in 2012 the percentage of millennial women graduating from college with a bachelor's degree averaged 7 percent higher than their male counterparts. This represents a serious concern for men. A study conducted by George Washington University projected that by 2020 65 percent of all jobs will require post-secondary education. With women springing ahead of men in education they may, in turn, fill the positions that men are no longer qualified to fill due to depleting rates of male enrollment and graduation from college. A higher female graduation percentage compared to men also entails greater job competition. Thus an increased incentive to seek work outside of the traditional male realm and into industries such as the pink collar.
As women move into male dominated occupations, men must look for work elsewhere. Common sense dictates that this is an equal swap; a 'female job' switched for a 'male job' and vice versa. However, this cannot be the case due to the vastly unequal number of jobs available in these fields. Despite male displacement in white and blue collar industries; men and women alike stand to benefit from pursuing positions in pink collar work. According to data accrued by the New York Times, pink collar work is the fastest growing industry. Doubling from the previous decade, occupations that demographically had more than seventy percent women between 2000-2010 represented almost a third of all job growth for men. Although this is not the leading cause for men moving into the pink collar industry, women definitely played a role in pushing men out of their comfort zones and into new fields.
The allure of pink collar jobs is the excellent job security they provide. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nursing industry is expected to grow by 16 percent by 2024, noticeably higher than other professions. As a result of their stability a few pink collar jobs are dubbed "recession-proof' meaning that while other industries cut back during the recession, recession proof industries thrive. Following the recession, blue collar industries incurred massive overall job losses that crippled the industry. In stark contrast, health care and educational industries vastly increased their number of positions, found a study carried out by Linda Levine, a Specialist in Labor Economics at the Congressional Research Service. Thus, healthcare positions are officially labeled as recession proof, as they show only exponential growth. Overall the minimization of blue collar work combined with the expansion of pink collar work bred the conditions necessary for men to make the switch.
In the pursuit of happiness, many men started to seek fields in caretaking industries. A recent study conducted by the research firm Havas Worldwide found that millennials place seeking happiness and love in their lifetime at the top of their aspirations list. For some people job searching shifted from the necessity of finding any open job to the luxury of being able to choose work that makes one happy. Interviews with men in pink collar jobs revealed similar philosophies for changing jobs; simply because the work they did previously did not make them happy. Interviews conducted by the New York Times overwhelmingly discovered that men sought out these careers for reasons similar to their female counterparts, these jobs create less stress (albeit not all of the time) and generally allow more time at home. As the saying goes, if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life.
While men in pink collar work have done wonders to break down gender barriers as well as diversify previously segregated labor markets, it is not without negative ramifications. The ever present pay gap represents a seemingly infinite uphill battle, and unfortunately shows little promise of eradication. The culprit behind this pay gap is the glass ceiling, the point in a women's career where upward motion is unattainable while her male counterparts continue to rise to the top. A common belief is that women will rise to the top in women dominated fields as men do in their respective fields. This is sadly not true; women still get the short end of the straw. The lesser known phenomenon behind this is called the 'Glass Escalator'. This term refers to men in female dominated industries getting paid more than women and rising to the top at a faster rate. The disparity between the amount women get paid compared to men increases as the job requirements do. In addition to the increasingly alarming pay gap between men and women in pink collar work, men are more likely to be promoted. A study done by the Census Bureau in 2011, revealed that men in the nursing industry were heavily concentrated in the higher positions which proportionately receive higher incomes. While as demonstrated in females tend to be shoved into the lower level positions with proportionally less pay. The predominate reason for this occurrence is male privilege. Society has been conditioned to see men as the leaders and women as the followers. Between male privilege and the illusive Glass Escalator women face a nearly insurmountable barricade.
As a result of more men moving into the pink collar industry they appear to deviate from the archaic stereotypes of men and engage in more housework and child care. Male involvement in housework hovered around 10% in 2011, up from an unsurprisingly low 4% in 1965. As for childcare male involvement in 2011 was 10% a dramatic increase from 2.5% in 1965 reports Pew Research Center on their new analysis of Modern Parenthood. Paralleling this increase was the rise in men entering pink collar fields. The corresponding timelines demonstrate that the rise of men working in pink collar jobs directly correlates with the rise of men taking more responsibilities at home. Empowering the gradual steps towards gender equality in both the workplace and at home, the recent shift in pink collar work encouraged more men to partake in the care for their children and other’s children. Heightened exposure to caretaking in the workforce, often associated with pink collar work, allows for the caretaking role to fluidly transfer to the home. A further investigation of the growing male presence in housework by Elizabeth Aura McClintock, University of Notre Dame Sociologist, found that when men moved into jobs like nursing, teaching, and childcare, they gravitate towards accepting more responsibility when it comes to housework. Her study from 1981-2009 focused on heterosexual relationships and found that for men who had a significant other to negotiate with, often had more housework than previously, and contrary to conventional thought, they were doing more than their female partners. This shift represents a positive step towards achieving more balanced relationships between both sexes and encourages society to rethink the status quo in a subtle yet influential way.
In light of men making the shift, media is rebranding what it means to be a man. More and more commercials are dumping the doofus or unmanly dad and are beginning to show men in childcare and care taking roles as no less of men but perhaps better ones for it! TV series Grey's Anatomy, Alex Karev quite possibly the manliest man on the show, specializes in babies as a pediatrics doctor. His character breaks down the stereotype of men who work pink collar jobs and shows with ease that a man can still be manly yet can maintain the nurturing and gentle characteristics typically attributed to femininity. The Tide and Downy commercial shows a Dad playing dress up with his daughter, cleaning up her messes, and to tie it off doing all the laundry. These commercials and shows serve to desensitize viewers to foreign scenes like men in pink collar work and make them more the norm.
This trend continues to rise with millennial values spreading and the massive projected growth in pink collar industries. Nursing is one of the largest pink collar fields that is growing, projected to expand by 16 percent by 2024 and is subsequently also the field where men tend to congregate. In addition to this job growth, at these rates women are still 7 percent ahead of men in college graduation rates which gives them a significant boost over men to attain previously male dominated jobs. This is due to the fact that by 2020 sixty-five percent of all jobs will require some form of postsecondary education and women are the most qualified to fill these jobs at this point. From the early 1970's when the term pink collar work was first coined to today, where pink collar industries are among the most booming and stable professions, men have come a long way in changing the looks of our workforce. Regardless of some of the negative effects of men entering pink collar work, it remains essential that we as a society continue to find ways to recruit men into pink collar work as it serves as an excellent tool in redefining archaic definitions of what it means to be a man.