Women Are Missing from COVID-19 Research: Why This Matters

Women have historically been underrepresented in medical research, and it is happening again in the United States with research for a COVID-19 vaccine. Alisha Haridasani Gupta, writing for the New York Times, notes that because data being collected on the virus and in clinical trials does not bother to record sex breakdowns, we will not know the answers to these questions and more:

  • How many women are infected versus men?
  • Are men and women equally likely to get infected?
  • What is the fatality rate for each sex?
  • Are symptoms exactly alike for men and women?

Gupta writes that “sex data blind spots can be traced back to the fact that, historically, science didn’t study the female body.” The assumption in science persists that there are no fundamental differences between male and female bodies, even though a vast amount of research shows otherwise. Instead, scientists still assume that any deviation in research studies from the white male archetypes is an anomaly to be ignored. Gupta cites a recent clinical trial in 2015 on “female Viagra,” which included twenty-three men and two women, as an example of the mindset of scientists who assume that including women is not important, even for a drug being developed specifically for women.

Why is it important to include women in medical research?

  • Gupta cites Caroline Criado Perez from her award-winning book as saying, “Researchers have found sex differences in every tissue and organ system in the human body.” Gupta notes that consequently, women and men are likely to have fundamentally different reactions to the virus, vaccines, and treatments. In fact, research found that SARS, influenza, Ebola, and HIV all affect women and men differently.
  • Because of sex differences, correct dosages of vaccines and treatments are likely to be different.
  • Between 1997 and 2001, eight of the ten FDA-approved drugs withdrawn from the market “posed greater health risks for women than men,” including valvular heart disease and liver failure.
  • Sex-disaggregate data was collected during the H1N1 pandemic, which determined that pregnant women were at a higher risk. Consequently, they were the first to receive the vaccine.

Sex-aggregated data is not being collected for the COVID-19 virus in the United States, even though it was collected in other countries. Gupta notes the following challenges to changing the practice in the United States to include women and people of color:

  • Medical researchers in the United States are predominantly male and white.
  • The mindset that white women and people of color don’t need to be included in clinical trials is deeply ingrained. Including white women and people of color is perceived to be an added complication.
  • The data collection systems are not set up to collect the information, and no leadership is coming from the top of the government to do so. In fact, Gupta reports that the White House’s initial twelve-person Coronavirus Task Force was entirely male. Two women were finally added, Dr. Deborah Birx and Seema Verna, but they are outnumbered and not senior enough to push through systemic changes.

We have to keep asking the questions raised by Gupta in the opening section of this article. This situation is shameful and potentially harmful to white women and people of color.


Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Why It Matters That Young Men Don’t Vacuum

I am always surprised to see research showing that the attitudes of young men about gender equality in the home are not changing. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times writes that “young people today have become much more open-minded about gender roles . . . in politics and sports . . . [but] they are holding on to traditional views about who does what at home.”

Miller cites a new Gallup survey of opposite-sex couples ages eighteen to thirty-four that found no difference between the younger couples and older ones about how indoor chores like cooking and cleaning are divided. This longitudinal survey, or a survey that is repeated over time, shows that “women now do a little less housework and childcare, and men do a little more. But a significant gap remains.” For example,

  • Women spend about one hour more a day than men on housework.
  • Women also spend about one hour more a day than men on childcare.

Miller notes that, like me, researchers are surprised that home life doesn’t look that different for young people than it did fifty years ago. They are surprised because attitudes about gender roles have changed in so many other ways:

  • There is now almost universal support for women to pursue careers or political office.
  • Women get more education than men.
  • Young people are much more accepting of gender-fluid identities—when people do not identify as either a woman or man.

What could be keeping the gender inequality in the home in place? Here are several possible factors:

  • Some traditional norms are reinforced in childhood. In a previous article, I wrote about research showing that boys are not required to do as many chores as girls are as children.
  • Miller notes that masculinity is strongly tied to earning an income and avoiding all things considered feminine.
  • Studies have shown that men can feel threatened if their wives earn more than them.

Miller did report on some positive changes in attitudes about gender roles in the longitudinal studies:

  • The biggest change has been among white men—one in six now say they prefer a traditional marriage, while a majority said this in 1976.
  • Young people whose mothers work full time are more likely to want a similar arrangement.

Not surprisingly, Miller reports that black women have been most in favor of dual-earner arrangements throughout the years of the longitudinal research.

Miller concludes that the disparity in time spent on household chores and childcare impacts women’s careers and “is a leading cause of the gender gaps in pay and promotions at work. . . . Making relationships more equal inside the home could have far-reaching effects outside of it, too.” Amen.


Photo courtesy of indy138 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Why Women Don’t Advance to Senior Leadership: New Research

Two well-known scholars of gender inequality, Robin J. Ely of Harvard Business School and Irene Padavic of Florida State University, recently published new research in the Harvard Business Review with surprising findings about why women don’t advance. This research expands our understanding of why the advancement of women to senior leadership positions has been stagnant for the last twenty years.

Ely and Padavic explain that companies complain of high turnover of women and problems with promoting women to senior levels. They note that the problem is pervasive: “Women made remarkable progress accessing positions of power and authority in the 1970s and 1980s, but that progress slowed considerably in the 1990s and has stalled completely in this century.”

The authors note that a widely held belief called the work/family narrative is commonly used to explain the lack of advancement for women. According to this belief, “high-level jobs require extremely long hours, women’s devotion to family makes it impossible for them to put in those hours, and their careers suffer as a result.” The authors cite a 2012 survey of more than 6,500 Harvard Business School alumni in which 73 percent of men and 85 percent of women cited this scenario to explain women’s lack of advancement. This new research reveals startling findings showing that the work/family narrative is not the cause of the problem and that, in fact, it is used to help keep gender inequality in place.

Ely and Padavic conducted their new study with 107 partners and associates of a global consulting firm that had very few female partners. Nearly all of those interviewed, both women and men, blamed the work/family narrative for the lack of female partners in the firm. An analysis of the interview data revealed a different story:

  • Both women and men suffered from the work/family balance problem, but the men advanced when the women did not.
  • Women, but not men, were encouraged to take accommodations, like working part-time and taking internally facing roles, which derailed their careers.
  • Two-thirds of men who were fathers reported work/family conflict, but only one man took accommodations.
  • Employees who took accommodations—virtually all of whom were women—were stigmatized and saw their careers derailed.
  • The promotion record for childless women was no better than for mothers.
  • The foundational premise that women can’t advance because 24/7 work schedules are unavoidable was contradicted by observations that a culture of overwork was created by unnecessary overselling and overdelivering. In fact, research has shown that long hours do not raise productivity and are associated with decreases in performance and increases in sick leave.

The researchers conclude that it is the culture of overwork that is the problem, something I wrote about in an earlier article. The culture of overwork, combined with deeply embedded societal beliefs that women are best suited to family caregiving and men are best suited to be ideal workers committed to their jobs, sets up women who want to be committed workers and mothers as their primary identity for devaluation. If they want to be both mothers and committed workers, they are labeled as bad mothers or horrible women who are not positive role models for junior women.

The work/family narrative functions to divert attention from the real problem, which is the unnecessary and inhumane cultures of overwork. The work/family accommodations offered as a solution to the culture of overwork serve only to derail women’s careers and cover up the real problem of inefficient work practices and the assumption that long work hours are unavoidable.

It will take a concerted push by employees, both women and men, to force companies to see the advantage of reasonable hours. Because the problem is systemic, the very nature of work needs to change, which will happen only if people demand it. Younger men say they want more involvement in family life. Employers want to keep talent and may listen if young men start to quit. Employers may even decide that they cannot afford to lose out on women’s talents. We need to start a discussion on a national level about the nature of work and how to make it more humane for everyone. Only then will women have the chance to achieve workplace equality.


Photo by Craig Renv on Unsplash

The Women of Mexico Stand Together against Femicide

Thousands of women in Mexico are regularly being killed as a result of gender-related violence. Jorge Ramos, writing for the New York Times, reports that women are being pushed to their deaths from the upper floors of buildings, dismembered by boyfriends, skinned and gutted by assailants, or are disappearing and are never found by their families. Because these crimes have been largely ignored and often classified as suicides by law enforcement, women in Mexico are declaring, “Enough is enough,” and designating themselves as empowered feminists. Ramos explains that

  • In 2019 alone, 1,010 femicides were registered in Mexico by local authorities, more than double those reported in 2015.
  • Most femicides, or the killing of women and girls because of their gender, are unreported, misclassified as suicides, or uninvestigated in Mexico. Consequently, the official 2019 figure of 1,010 femicides is likely a gross undercount of the actual cases.

Ramos describes the determination and anger of Yesenia Zamudio, a mother whose daughter was murdered, as an example of “the expression of a new culture against silence and machismo taking root in Mexico.” Zamudio has become a public speaker at protest rallies and a leader of the digital organizing, inspired by the global #MeToo movement, that produced a massive countrywide protest on Sunday, March 8, 2020, and a national women’s strike, #UnDiaSinMueres (#OneDayWithoutWomen), on Monday, March 9, 2020. Smaller protests have been going on for months, some of them violent, which Zamudio explains is justified as long as the government does nothing. “We want you [the government] to listen to us,” she explains as the government continues to do nothing to protect women and frustration grows.

Paulina Villegas, reporting on the #UnDiaSinMujeres strike, notes that “many workplaces across the country were devoid of women . . . some schools shut down.” Even some newsrooms, government offices, and subway ticket booths were closed without women to staff them. Overall, businesses and city governments were supportive and declared they would not penalize the women for missing work. Villegas explains that the march on Sunday—by tens of thousands of women—and the massive strike on Monday represent unprecedented collective action.

The women of Mexico are demanding that their president, Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador, acknowledge the seriousness of the femicide issue and create a special prosecutor’s office for femicide and cases of disappearance. So far, he has been tone deaf, insensitive, and condescending to the women. Let’s see if these protests and the nationwide strike get his attention. Let’s hope so for the sake of the women of Mexico.


Photo courtesy of Thayne Tuason

How the #MeToo Era Impacts Women’s Mentoring: New Research from Simmons

Much attention has been paid in the media to reports that, as a consequence of the large response to the #MeToo platform for reporting sexual harassment, men are withdrawing from mentoring relationships with women. Because scholars have shown that mentoring is an essential element of women’s professional advancement, and media reports of withdrawal are largely based on men’s perspectives and responses, Simmons University researchers decided to examine the actual experiences with mentoring of women protégés in the #MeToo era in their report titled Women’s Mentoring Experiences in the #MeToo Era.

The Simmons researchers note that two large national surveys by LeanIn.org (2018) and Survey Monkey (2019) found that

  • In 2019, 60 percent of male managers in the United States reported they are “uncomfortable engaging in commonplace work-place interactions with women, including mentoring,” which is a 14 percent increase from 2018.
  • Over one-third (36 percent) of men who are uncomfortable explained that they are “nervous about how it would look” or of having their intentions misunderstood.

To understand women’s perspectives, the Simmons scholars surveyed 142 women at a 2019 women’s leadership conference and found

  • Half of the respondents were midlevel professionals from industries where most of the #MeToo dialogue has centered—finance, banking, insurance, and technology.
  • Almost three-quarters (71 percent) reported being in a mentoring relationship.
  • The majority (64.8 percent) had female mentors.
  • About one-third (35.2 percent) had mentors two steps above them.

The findings from this study were surprising.

Finding #1

Not much has changed in mentoring relationships, and some relationships have improved. The study asked questions about two primary roles that mentors play in the workplace, defined by Kathy Kram (https://www.amazon.com/Strategic-Relationships-Work-Creating-Sponsors/dp/0071823476): career support and psychosocial support:

  • The study respondents reported no decrease in career support since the #MeToo era began, with career support remaining stable overall. Respondents did report increased activity by female mentors compared to male mentors. For example, respondents rated that their mentors “help me learn about other parts of the organization” at a rate of 50 percent for female mentors compared to 25 percent for males.
  • For psychosocial support, participants reported an increase in psychosocial support across nine of the fourteen roles. For example, 67.3 percent of respondents selected “provides support and encouragement” as one type of support, which indicates a strengthening of mentor relationships.

Finding #2

Women continue to rely on female mentors. This phenomena is not new, but the problem remains that mentors are typically more senior, and men hold greater numbers of senior positions in organizations. This means the number of senior women available as mentors is low.

Finding #3

Employees are largely unaware of what their organizations are doing to address #MeToo issues.

What needs to be done? The Simmons researchers suggest that to build a mentoring culture

  • Organizations need to require, support and reward cross-gender mentoring.
  • Organizations need to create LeanIn-like circles for men to provide a “safe space” where men can express their fears and clarify what behaviors are inappropriate.
  • Men and women need to understand the natural draw of homophily, or the tendency to feel more comfortable with others like themselves. Homophily excludes white women and people of color from access to mentorship and can impede their careers.

In conclusion, the study authors suggest their research reflects that “mentors and protégés are doing the hard work of adjusting, clarifying, and strengthening their relationships to their mutual benefit, and to the benefit of their organizations.” This seems to be primarily true between women mentors and women protégés.


Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

Women in Politics in Finland Make a Difference: Groundbreaking New Family Leave Policies

Sanna Marin, age thirty-four of Finland, became the world’s youngest sitting prime minister in December 2019. In addition, four of the five party leaders in this coalition government are women, with Marin as the leader.

Johanna Lemola and Megan Specia, writing for the New York Times, note that Finland has had strong female representation for decades, which has been growing:

  • In the 1983 election, women held 30 percent of Parliament seats.
  • By the 2007 election, women made up more than 40 percent of lawmakers.
  • Women make up 47 percent of Parliament in the term that began in 2019.

In a different article, Megan Specia writes that “Ms. Marin has been a rising star in Finland’s Social Democratic Party since first entering Parliament in 2015.” She served as the minister of transportation and deputy prime minister, stepping in for the previous prime minister when he was ill during a critical time. Specia cites Johanna Kantola, a professor of gender studies at Finland’s Tampere University, as noting that the new government is quite a contrast to the older male-dominated center-right government in power from 2015 to 2019: “It kind of took us back to 1980 in a way . . . they were old white men . . . [and] the kinds of politics that they did. It was a very bad time for gender equality.”

Specia quotes Marin as explaining, “Human rights and equality of people . . . [are] the basis of my moral conception.” Iliana Magra, writing for the New York Times, notes that the new government, led by Marin, has already taken a big step toward tackling gender inequality by abolishing gender-specific benefits and using gender-neutral language in the new legislation that gives the same amount of parental leave to all parents. Specifically, the new reforms

  • Give each parent 164 days of paid parental leave, which is an increase in the total allowance for a couple from eleven and a half to fourteen months
  • Offer single parents the right to use the parental leave quotas of both parents
  • Allow parental leave to be given regardless of the gender of the parents or whether they are a child’s biological parents

Magra explains that although parental leave reforms have been in the making for a long time, “Ms. Marin may have been key to finally pushing the policy forward.”

These reforms are intended to be an investment by the government in the future of children and the well-being of families. The minister of social affairs and health, Aino-Kaisa Pekonen, notes that “the reform will be a major change in attitudes, as it will improve equality between parents and make the lives of diverse families easier.”

Don’t you wish our government would make an investment like this in us? I do.


Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons (CC BY 4.0)

Forgotten Heroines, Heroes, and Pioneers

Courage is a rare human quality, and reading about people from the past who had the courage to break through barriers and act on their convictions is uplifting. I share here the stories of four such overlooked people: Bessie Coleman, Ralph Lazo, Clara Schumann, and Homer Plessy.

Bessie Coleman: 1892–1926

“Bessie Coleman was the first African-American women to earn a pilot’s license, thrilling crowds by performing dangerous maneuvers,” writes Daniel E. Slotnik of the New York Times. Coleman decided to learn to fly when her brother returned from fighting in World War I. He reported to her that women in France were so liberated, “they could even fly planes,” Slotnik explains. He went on to tell his sister, in 1919, that black “women ain’t never goin’ to fly”—and she decided to prove him wrong.

Unable to find any pilots in the United States to teach her to fly, Coleman decided to go to France. To prepare for the trip, she learned French, raised money, and saved her own earnings from working in a chili restaurant. In 1920, she left for France, enrolled in flight school, and began a seven-month course on flying. She learned aerial maneuvers, and in 1921, she received her pilot’s license, granting her the right to fly anywhere in the world. Slotnik writes that Coleman saw flying as a way to empower black people in America. Her aerial performances dazzled crowds and earned her enough money to buy two planes. She died at the age of thirty-four in a flying accident and was memorialized at her funeral by the journalist Ida B. Wells.

Ralph Lazo: 1924–1992

In 1942, after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States government, under President Franklin Roosevelt’s executive order, rounded up and incarcerated 115,000 Japanese Americans living in the West. They were torn from their homes and businesses with no due process and sent to internment camps. Two-thirds of them were United States citizens. Ralph Lazo, a seventeen-year-old Mexican American high school student, decided to go with them to be with his friends.

Veronica Majerol, writing for the New York Times, explains that Lazo presented himself at the Manzanar internment camp, pretending to be Japanese-American so that he could be willingly interned. For two and a half years, he gave up his freedom and lived in the harsh conditions of the camp. Majerol notes that by the time he left Manzanar, Lazo had developed a deep social conscience and a sense of indignity over the treatment of Japanese Americans that shaped the rest of his life. He lived as an activist fighting for education for underprivileged groups and working for reparations for Japanese Americans who had been interned.

Clara Schumann: 1819–1896

I love classical music and know the name of the composer Robert Schumann, one of the nineteenth-century master composers. I was very surprised, though, to read in an article by Thomas May that Schumann’s wife, Clara, was also a composer and celebrity pianist in her time. As often happens with women artists, she does not get the same degree of recognition as her husband even though she was at least as accomplished.

Clara Wieck Schumann was a child prodigy as a piano virtuoso in Germany and toured Paris before her teens. She married Robert Schumann, a student of her father’s, and encouraged his development as an artist. May explains that when they met, Robert was an unknown and insecure composer while Clara had an international reputation. She is now often mentioned only in reference to her husband, although she was rediscovered in recent years by women performers who find inspiration in her work.

Homer Plessy: 1863–1925

I have always heard of Plessy v. Ferguson as a famous Supreme Court case, but I did not fully understand it until reading about Homer Plessy, the plaintiff in this case. Glenn Rifkin, writing for the New York Times, explains that long before Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat in the white-only section of a bus in 1955, Plessey refused to leave the whites-only train car for which he had purchased a ticket in 1892. He was dragged off the train and charged with violating the 1890 Louisiana Separate Care Act, one of the new Jim Crow laws popping up all over the post-Reconstruction South after the Civil War. Rifkin explains that these segregationist laws were developed to institutionalize white supremacy movements intent on quashing “any notion that people of color might ever attain equal status in white America.”

Plessy, a racially mixed shoemaker who could pass for white, was a civil rights activist who volunteered to be a test case for local civil rights groups wanting to get a case to the Supreme Court to try to stop these new laws. The judge in the Plessy case, Judge John Howard Ferguson, upheld the constitutionality of the Louisiana law. The case eventually got to the Supreme Court, where the new law was also upheld as constitutional. Rifkin notes that Plessy v. Ferguson came to define the Jim Crow era as a time when people of color were summarily segregated from most public places for the next fifty-eight years until Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954.

Who are your forgotten heroes?


Photos courtesy of Wikipedia Commons (BY CC 2.0)

Why Leaning In and Assertiveness Are Not the Answers for Women

I recently ran focus groups for the senior women in an organization to ask what helps and hinders advancement for women in their company. In addition to the usual issues about men taking credit for their work and ignoring their ideas, these women raised a theme that I found especially troubling: they repeatedly asked for training to help them stand up to men who behave inappropriately. It felt wrong to me that these women felt individually responsible to correct deeply embedded societal misogynistic attitudes toward women by getting training to be assertive. Ruth Whippman, writing for the New York Times, points out that complex, systemic problems cannot be fixed with individual self-improvement.

Whippman goes on to state that the current popularity of focusing on building assertiveness skills for women is in fact blaming the victim. She points out that when companies say women get lower pay because they are not assertive enough to ask, this is a way for corporations to blame female employees rather than pay them fairly. She further notes that it is not true that women don’t ask for raises and promotions. Research shows that women ask as often as men—they just don’t get the raises and promotions.

Shirley Leung, writing for the Boston Globe, notes that “it’s the workplace that needs a reboot when it comes to hiring and advancement,” not the women. She points out that research shows male candidates often believe they are qualified for positions when they are not, while women hesitate to apply because they don’t feel qualified enough. Women don’t need to be fixed, says Leung, they need a nudge to apply. If hiring managers interview only people who apply without looking around at what talent in the organization might need encouragement to apply, they could be missing the best candidate. It’s also not true that women aren’t confident and ambitious. Leung cites a 2016 study by Bain and Company that shows women are confident and ambitious and aspire to senior leadership. “Yet,” she notes, “few companies have gender parity at the management level.”

One problem is that the focus on assertiveness reflects a valuing of masculine characteristics and a devaluing of feminine ones. Whippman asks why we pour tax dollars into encouraging girls to take up STEM subjects, but we don’t encourage boys to become nurses. These actions assume that what men and boys do is normal and desirable. What if, instead, we assumed that feminine characteristics were normal and desirable? After all, overassertiveness in men has resulted in

  • Women being talked over, patronized, or ignored at work
  • The need for the #MeToo movement
  • Campus rape
  • School shootings
  • President Trump’s Twitter attacks

What if the feminine characteristics that are undervalued were considered normal and desirable? Such as

  • Apologizing or taking responsibility for our actions
  • Self-examination and moral reflection
  • Being more deferential
  • Listening and reflecting on what you have heard
  • Modesty, humility, and cooperation

Imagine how much more civil and inclusive the workplace would be.

What needs to change?

  • Instead of assertiveness training for women at work, let’s have deference, listening, and empathy training for men.
  • Both women and men need more feedback to show women they have skills to advance and to give men more realistic feedback to set appropriate expectations about what they need to advance.
  • Interview slates of candidates for positions that consist of people from a variety of backgrounds.
  • Invite women to apply for positions instead of including just those who self-nominate.
  • Focus more on skills and less on “fit” or likeability during interviews.
  • Train managers on how to understand the experiences of women in the workplace and how to create conditions that help women succeed.

Let’s stop blaming the victim with assertiveness training.


Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

Mothers and Choice

A primary narrative in family policy in the United States is that parents should have choices. The idea of choice fits neatly within the values central to the founding of the United States—freedom, independence, and individualism. These values assume that people should be responsible for themselves and should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” In this country we talk about family choice, healthcare choice, and school choice as code words for limited government involvement or small government conservatism, as solidified by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s regarding children. But, as Claire Cain Miller explains in the New York Times, mothers often feel they have no choice at all.

Women are still the primary childcare providers in heterosexual marriages. Three-quarters of mothers are employed, yet the structural problems mothers face are rarely discussed. Instead we talk about work-life balance, but this is not the right conversation. Without attention to the structural issues that mothers face, the choices are difficult ones. For example

  • Very few companies offer paid family leave to all employees
  • Childcare is often unaffordable or difficult to find
  • Mothers are often expected to work long hours
  • Work schedules are often irregular and unpredictable
  • The rising costs of healthcare and housing also limit women’s options

The language of “choice” is misleading because it hides inequalities based on gender, race, and wealth. Miller explains that the concept dates back to the 1980s when women started entering the workforce in large numbers, which implied that women had the choice about whether to stay at home to raise families or to work. While white, married, middle-class women may have had some degree of choice, many women did not and had to work to support their families.

Miller notes that while more women than ever are in the workforce today, they still “feel forced to make painful decisions, like leaving their child in inadequate care, or working in scaled-back jobs they say they wouldn’t have chosen under different circumstances.” The language of individual choice still frames the public policy debate as women are told to “lean in or lean out.”

We need structural solutions. Democratic candidates propose structural solutions such as new federal programs, financed by taxpayers, that would provide paid family leave, subsidized daycare, and free public preschool. Republican proposals offer individual solutions such as letting new parents draw down their social security earnings to help pay for childcare or get tax credits. At this time, the choices women (and men) have for caring for families while working to support those families are very limited. You could say they don’t have choice at all.

Something needs to change.


Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

Women’s Gains in the Job Market: Good News and Bad News

“American women have just achieved a significant milestone,” reports Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times. Women now hold slightly more (50.4 percent) payroll jobs than men. While women passed this milestone once before in mid-2010 during the recession, the economy is now doing well. What has made the difference? Miller explains that

  • Male-dominated occupations, like manufacturing, are shrinking
  • Female-dominated occupations, like healthcare and education, are growing. Men don’t want these jobs, even when they are higher-paying jobs, like nurse practitioners, that are more secure than many jobs in male-dominated occupations

So what is the problem? The problem for men is that they remain under- or unemployed when they refuse to take healthcare or education jobs. But women are also experiencing a problem. When occupations remain female dominated, the pay remains low and the work is devalued. At the other end of the scale, when women enter fields in large numbers that are traditionally male dominated, the pay declines. Let’s look more closely at what is going on that keeps these gendered dynamics in place.

Miller points out the many reasons for the decline in work for men:

  • The rise of automation
  • The waning power of unions
  • Rising incarceration rates
  • Factories that move overseas
  • Challenges to switching jobs, like retraining
  • Gender norms

The United States economy is now service dominated, which means it is female dominated. Women are 84 percent of social service workers and 78 percent of healthcare workers. The norms of masculinity make it hard for men to take jobs that require feminine skills such as interpersonal finesse or care work. Miller explains that markers of masculinity are having a good-paying job that is about making things (not providing services) and “distancing oneself from feminine things.” Miller cites a study by Margarita Torre Fernández, a sociologist at the University Carlos III of Madrid, using data from the census and the National Longitudinal Study of Youth from 1979 to 2006. She found that men would not apply for jobs in nearly every female-dominated occupation, and “some men would rather endure unemployment than accept a relatively high-paying women’s job and suffer the potential social stigma” for doing so. Miller adds that men who have taken pink-collar jobs in the United States are more likely to be black or Hispanic and have the least education and the lowest earnings. Even though these jobs pay less overall, they often pay more than the jobs that black and Hispanic men had access to previously.

Why are women experiencing success in the labor market? Miller suggests that women’s success has been driven by:

  • Educational gains
  • More black and Hispanic women entering the workforce
  • More flexibility and willingness to retrain

The United States is likely to remain a service economy for the foreseeable future. What would improve conditions for the economic health of both women and men? As Miller notes, researchers suggest “that improving the quality of pink-collar jobs, in terms of wages, stability, benefits and hours . . . could attract both men to these jobs and also benefit women.” If these jobs were more highly valued in our society, men would be more likely to want to enter them and women would benefit from higher wages. Miller closes by saying, “Improving the quality of pink-collar, working-class jobs has the potential to close gender gaps—and also to shrink the widening gaps between the highest and lowest earners, both women and men.”


Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash