Jobs in health sector are drawing more men
As tech advances threaten to disproportionately hit male-dominated occupations, the healthcare field may be key to keeping them employed
Chauncey Incarnato cycled through a variety of jobs after graduating from college: construction, personal trainer, hotel bellman, bouncer at bars. But none stuck, and even long workweeks barely covered his bills.
Incarnato was skeptical when his mom, a nurse for more than 30 years, suggested a career in healthcare. But after a six-month course to become a certified nursing assistant, Incarnato discovered caregiving instincts he didn’t realize he had.
Working at a skilled nursing facility, Incarnato found the physicality of the job, plus the relationships formed with patients, deeply rewarding. He went back to school to become a registered nurse and hopes more men follow suit.
“Once you’re the person in the room talking to the patient, seeing the ramifications of the choices you make, I don’t see how anyone can not be pulled into it,” said Incarnato, 31, a nurse in the neurological trauma intensive care unit at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Incarnato is part of a small but growing contingent of men pursuing jobs traditionally dominated
by women in the fast-growing health sector, a choice some economists say may be key to stanching a troubling exodus of men from working life.
The rate of U.S. men participating in the labor force — meaning they’re working or looking for work — has been declining for 50 years, a trend that could carry ramifications for economic growth as well as individual and family well-being. And more automation, particularly advancements in artificial intelligence, threatens to disproportionately hit traditionally male-dominated jobs.
Manufacturing, agriculture and utilities, all of which employ mostly men, are projected to lose jobs over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meanwhile, nine of the 12 fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. are in healthcare, topped by occupational therapy assistants, physical therapy assistants and nurse practitioners — positions held mostly by women.
“The growing professions are more caring,” said Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “Men Without Work.” “Can this be a man’s world too?”
Some say it needs to be, not just for the sake of men but also for the sake of the healthcare field. Take nursing, which will need an estimated 1.13 million new registered nurses over the next decade, according to the American Nurses Assn.
Efforts to bring more men into the nursing ranks seem to be working, albeit modestly. About 10% to 12% of registered nurses are men, compared with less than 3% in the early 1970s, according to census figures.
Diversity among nurses, gender and otherwise, is good for patients because those relationships are intimate and it helps to have access to someone who can relate, said Marquis Foreman, dean of the College of Nursing at Rush University.
It could also bode well for men’s future employment prospects, given projections that the jobs that will survive advancements in artificial intelligence are those that require distinctly human capabilities such as empathy, said Kristin Sharp, executive director of the Shift Commission on Work, Workers and Technology, an initiative of public policy think tank New America and Bloomberg.
Under one scenario outlined by Shift, technological innovation over the long run could mean jobs will increasingly revolve around caring for others, including in fields such as elder care, child care and teaching. Keeping men engaged in the workplace will mean finding ways to interest them — and help them thrive — in these jobs.
There has been a notable decline in work among men of prime working age, 25 to 54, when they should be most productive. The drop has been particularly acute among men with a high school degree or less, according to a paper issued last year by the White House.
It’s not that these men are staying home with the kids — nonworking men report spending less time taking care of family members than employed women.
Part of the reason that less-educated men are opting out of work is that offshoring, globalization and automation have squeezed manufacturing jobs, leaving them with fewer options. Depressed wages at the bottom of the ladder also provide little incentive to work, the White House paper said.
But many advanced economies have faced globalization and automation pressures without as severe a decline in working men, Eberstadt said.
Juan Soto, 33, sees some of the listlessness among his peers and wishes that they would be more open to jobs in healthcare, as he was.
Soto, who lives in Chicago and has his GED, worked in construction and did some warehouse work before he decided to become a certified nursing assistant. In April he graduated from a program that trains underemployed people in historically disenfranchised neighborhoods in high-demand healthcare jobs.
Soto, the only man in his class of 23, said he always felt that something was missing in his work. After a car accident last year caused him to lose his construction job, he took a leap of faith and joined the program.
“The first day we had orientation, I knew that’s the place I wanted to be,” he said.
Soto said he is driven by compassion because the pay is low. He hopes to become a trauma nurse or a doctor to set an example for his two children, 10 and 13.
Incarnato, the former bouncer who is now a nurse at Northwestern, said he worried at first that he’d be a fish out of water. Growing up in a small town in Ohio, the son of a steelworker, he didn’t know men who were nurses. And as a former college football player who majored in sociology, he was more confident in his brawn and work ethic than his ability to understand medicine.
While he never considered himself particularly nurturing, “the job brings it out in you,” Incarnato said.
It taps into stereotypically male tendencies too.
“I think any guy will feel like this: It’s this sense of, ‘I need to take control of the situation and take care of this person,’ ” he said. “I need to control chaos and keep everything running in the right direction.”
JUAN SOTO, who graduated from a program to be a certified nursing assistant, hopes to further his studies to become a trauma nurse or a doctor to set an example for his two children, Nicholas, 13, left, and Jocelyn, 10.
WHILE HE never considered himself particularly nurturing, “the job brings it out in you,” says Chauncey Incarnato, a nurse in the neurological trauma intensive care unit at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.