The Men Who Take ‘Women’s’ Jobs

LUCASVILLE, Ohio—Before the scalpels, the forceps, and the surgical needles, Tom Jones knew steel. He was a quality technician in the fabrication shop at a handful of mills, most recently at AK Steel, where he worked in this economically depressed region of southern Ohio until his employer laid off more than 600 people.

Casting about for a way to support his wife and two children, Jones decided to go back to school. He considered becoming a welder or an electrician, but wanted something different, more stable. So he settled on a program at the nearby Scioto County Career Technical Center that would train him to be a surgical technologist, someone who assists doctors during surgery.

“I read all this stuff that said the medical field is the only one that’s not laying people off,” Jones said, explaining his choice. I met him while he sat in school, one of two men in a classroom full of women, where he was wearing blue scrubs and a camouflage baseball cap. He said it was a little strange to be among so many women, but it was something he felt he had to do. He said, “It comes to a point where, most of the people like I know like me, you go, you get a job and support your family.”

Many men in parts of the Midwest have flailed as manufacturing jobs have disappeared, but it doesn’t have to be that way. A growing group of men are deciding that to work and support their families, they have to embrace new fields, such as health care. More younger men are entering nursing, one of the most gendered professions there is, than once did. According to data provided by the American Nurses Association, men make up 6.2 percent of nurses licensed before 2000, but 9.6 percent of nurses licensed in 2000 or later. (That number still seems small, but change takes time; the share of medical degrees earned by women, for example, increased from 5 percent in 1952 to 48 percent in 2011.)

Throughout regions of the country like southern Ohio, manufacturing jobs have vanished, while work in health care is booming. In 1995, the top four employers in Ohio were General Motors (which employed 63,400 people), Ford, Kroger, and General Electric, according to Edward Hill, a professor at the Ohio State University and the head of the Ohio Manufacturing Institute. In 2016, the top four employers were the Cleveland Clinic (which employed 48,200), Walmart, Kroger, and Mercy Health. Service-sector jobs like those at Walmart are generally low-paying, so for people who want to make more than the minimum wage, the most logical place to go would be in health care.

Yet it can be a challenge to get men into healthcare, a field that has long been dominated by women. This is partly because of the perception that jobs that require caring for and tending to others are “women’s work.” It’s also because many of these jobs, such as home health aides, for example, don’t pay very well, and don’t appeal to men who had once made a good living in other industries. And some health-care jobs require a certain level of education and math and science skills, which some men who had worked in other industries no longer have or never fully developed. “Blue-collar workers often don’t have the academic background” to enter many medical professions, Paula Boley, the dean of Rhodes State College, in Lima, Ohio, told me. To get into many medical-training programs at Rhodes State, for instance, students need a certain GPA and to have received a C or higher in anatomy.

Read more at The Atlantic.