Male Gender Bias Deters Men From Some Career Paths

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Men are less likely to seek careers in early education and some other fields traditionally associated with women because of male gender bias in those fields, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Bias against men in health care, early education and domestic (HEED) fields has been documented in prior research, and the current study sought to gauge the impact of that bias. 

In one experiment with 296 online participants from the U.S., one group read an article accurately describing research that found educators preferred a female elementary school teacher applicant over a male applicant with the same qualifications. Another group read an article that claimed there was gender equality in early elementary education, and there was a control group that didn’t read any article.

Men in the group that read about male gender bias anticipated more discrimination in early elementary education and felt less sense of belonging, less positive and less interest in pursuing a career in that field. Female participants weren’t affected and reported similar responses across the different groups.

An experiment with 275 students at Skidmore College had similar findings. The research was published online in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

While female gender bias in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields has received much public attention, male gender bias in HEED careers has been largely ignored, even though it also has negative impacts, said lead researcher Corinne Moss-Racusin, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Skidmore College.

“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,” she said. “That’s a powerful way of reinforcing the traditional gender status quo.”

Men account for only 3% of preschool and kindergarten teachers and 13% of registered nurses in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In prior research, male nurses have reported higher levels of workplace bullying than female nurses. Male early-elementary teachers have reported higher rates of discrimination and are perceived as less likeable, less hirable and a greater safety threat to children than female teachers.

Rooted in traditional views of motherhood, the stereotype that women are more caring and naturally suited for some care-oriented professions limits opportunities for men in those fields, Moss-Racusin said.  

“There’s no evidence that men are biologically incapable of doing this work or that men and women are naturally oriented toward different careers,” she said. “Both men and women are deterred by gender biases they may face in different industries, which is understandable.”

Men also may be deterred by the low pay commonly found in HEED fields, which may be related to discrimination against women and a devaluing of work associated with them, Moss-Racusin said.

More recruitment and mentoring of men in HEED fields could help reduce gender bias and lead more men to seek careers in those fields, she said.

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