“Girly Jobs” Don’t Pay, But They Will Get You A Husband

I knew I wasn’t going to like Nancy Folbre’s post on the New York Times’ “Economix” blog from the moment I read the title: “Why Girly Jobs Don’t Pay Well.”  “Girly jobs”?  The accompanying photo – of nurses during WWII, complete with the adorable white hats – didn’t help my angry lady brain prepare for the task ahead.

What Folbre was referring to, of course, was the tendency for women to take jobs in lower-paying fields like education, health care, and social work.  Even though women are growing stronger in workplace numbers, that pesky little wage gap persists.  We, of course, wonder whether women are deliberately choosing to go into fields that pay far less than male-dominated careers, or whether they are even better suited to said jobs.  After all, as Robin Marty pointed out in an excellent post a few weeks ago, women are traditionally thought of as “nurturing” and “caring,” something that makes them far better equipped for these (lower-paying) jobs.

There is, of course, the thought that women are not choosing to go into these careers – that they are constrained by discrimination, lack of maternity leave, and cultural expectations (like, for example, the assumption that two X chromosomes gives you a special “nurturing” boost).  But Folbre’s blog post, which seeks to tease out why women, who are, after all, now averaging higher levels of educational attainment than men, are still entering female-dominated professions where the wages are fairly low.  She doesn’t really answer the question.  Instead, she ponders through a string of problematic thoughts, to wit:

1) Some sources (read: a forum on Yahoo Answers) say that ladies just like lady jobs better.

2) More credible sources suggest that women, being less ruthless and practical than men, value money less and family more (I’m assuming that it helps, here, to have some sort of other family member, like a spouse, who cares a little less and brings home a ruthless salary).

3) Caring for people is not a profession to which monetary value can really be assigned, but women are happy knowing that they are making the world a better place (and who needs money anyway?).

4) Having a “girly job” makes you look less threatening to men who do exhibit the “successful” traits mentioned in 2), which is obviously helpful to you, not being personally concerned about money but presumably in need of a way to survive.

5) The government is to blame for not subsidizing all of the “girly jobs” equally.

6) Women COULD just start going into high-paying jobs.  But then they would be bad people.

This is all to say that Folbre is ignoring some very fundamental points.  Of course, these lower-paying professions are valuable and should come with higher salaries than they do.  But there are a lot of men who might end up in them, and a lot of women who might end up in those ambitious, ruthless, manly jobs, if we were able to break down our inflexible career structure, even just a little.  If, perhaps, women were still not subjected to a double standard of dress and appearance, or if we had affordable childcare and adequate maternity and paternity leave, or if networking hierarchies promoted female mentorship, to name just a few ideas.  The fact that we undervalue teachers and health care workers is a separate (and legitimate) issue – but calling them “girly jobs” ends the conversation before it even starts.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.


Jewels S.
Jewels S7 years ago

Thank you.

E. C.
E C7 years ago

I'm going to show this article to one of my girlfriends--the engineer.

People are still making jokes about male nurses, aren't they?

So although a lot of progress has been made--some things (and people) still need changing.

Juan Pablo de la Torre

There's a long way to go for gender equality. But, the progress this far is enormous.

Nellie K A.
Nellie K Adaba7 years ago

Don't like girly jobs. I'm a tomboy. Women should do more men jobs.

Amanda D.
Amanda D7 years ago

To Mike N. - It doesn't surprise me one bit that there are still people out there who really believe the same type of logic as you. However, your logic is extremely problematic and limiting to both men and women alike. The idea that the characteristics of the nurturer and care giver are "naturally" given to women is false. Rather, society throughout the ages has assigned certain characteristics to women and certain ones to men. Once people understand the sociology of gender and how it works in our everyday lives, we will be on a better path towards an equal society. Until then, sexism will be the nagging force that affects both women and men of the world.

Julie F.
Julie F7 years ago

The title of this post totally confuses me. And why is the author quoting Yahoo Answers!?

Zoraida Colon-collado
Zoraida colon7 years ago

I'm puzzled as to why the column was named as it was. It really didn't directly hit on why certain jobs could get you a husband, although we all know the unspoken rumor, nurse meets doctor, secretary meets owner, etc. Men with power and money have forever used their clout to score trophy wives, no matter what the field. It is happening, in smaller numbers, to women now realizing some of that same power/money potential, either by career choice or inheritance, (daddy has to leave his money to someone, right Paris?). They rock the news with their "manly" antics, chasing men, having affairs, public displays of inebration and lewdness, I guess evening up the score?
From my own experience, people generally get what they THINK they deserve. In my town, for example, only white men can successfully beg on street corners. I've seen a few women, for a few days, but it doesn't go over well, and never a black, latino or asian. Why? People may be more likely to see a white man begging as a hard worker down on his luck, while it is assumed a woman CAN get someone to care for her, and of course, blacks, asians or latinos might be seen as just plain lazy. Our social preceptions color, consciously or unconsciously, how we react to others or make choices for ourselves. Girls may not see many women doctors, lawyers, engineers, and so feel it is NOT a field to get into or would be successful at. Why not sponsor more female mentors from these fields in schools? That would turn the tide.

Chris L.
Chris L7 years ago

I still think much of it comes down to supply and demand. We were discussing this on one of the ed threads about school superintendents and the cost to hire one. People are outraged at what it costs to hire one. Well it used to be easier in this area to find them. As regulations and budget processes have become more complicated we have fewer people that WANT the job. They can make almost as much at the senior administrative levels with half the headaches. Other than those who have an educational vision or seak power there are not many attacted to the salary. There are many things they can do with their background and experience with less stress.

The last two times we have interviewed for canidates we have gotten limited qualified applicants and the cost has increased signficantly. I joked on one post these canidates are going to have agents soon, because their services are highly sought and there are only so many who are certified and want the job.

On the other hand we have massive numbers of unemployed teachers. The supply far outweighs the demand. It is an honorable profession and while it has its challenges people are attracted to the profession. We rarely lack canidates. There has never been an incentive to raise pay. Someone said we will start appreciating teachers when we don't have them. Yes, actually that is the point, we will. When there is a demand the salaries will increase. When we have more positions than teachers the salaries will reflect.

Sue Terry
Susan T7 years ago

HUH? I really do not get the point of this.

Stop thinking of yourself as a woman vs a man and do what you want to do.

Evelyn J.
Evy J7 years ago

Teaching and social work = government/state subsidized, until they're privatized, of course they'll pay poorly, no matter who you are. "Health care" is a ridiculously general title. Group home type care? Nursing? One requires one day of training, and the other years, hmmm I wonder which pays more. What would forcing men into teaching kindergarten or nursing for the sake of equal numbers accomplish?