Researchers led by University of Akron's Janette Dill hope to find out whether a man without a four-year college degree should seek out a lower-paying but steadier employment in a female-dominated field or try his luck in landing a well-paying, but insecure job, in traditionally male fields such as manufacturing or construction.
"It's such a hard labor market if you don't have a college degree," Dill says. "You're just really shut out from jobs that pay a decent wage."
While manufacturing has been declining for decades and construction is highly cyclical, healthcare continues its steady rise. The healthcare and social assistance sector will add 5 million jobs from 2012 to 2022, accounting for nearly one-third of all job growth, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects.
Dill and sociology professors Kim Price-Glynn, of the University of Connecticut, and Carter Rakovski, of California State University-Fullerton, analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data to compare how low-skill men in male-dominated occupations fared in comparison with men in "frontline" healthcare jobs that do not require a four-year degree and are dominated by women (nursing assistants, administrative workers, and others).
They found that although male frontline healthcare workers earned less than male blue-collar workers, the blue-collar workers were more likely to be laid off.
"It's sort of a trade-off," Dill says. "You can either go into manufacturing and make higher wages, but you may lose your job, or you can go into healthcare and have a higher degree of job stability."
The researchers found no evidence that men were leaving male-dominated occupations for frontline healthcare jobs. The lower pay, along with the stigma men may feel doing "women's work," are among the reasons.
However, frontline allied healthcare jobs surgical technicians and the like, which require a two-year degree or equivalent, involve more technical expertise, and pay more than traditionally female-dominated healthcare jobs are a different story.
"We see a high rate of growth of men going into these occupations," Dill says.
In 2001, men made up 17 percent of frontline allied healthcare workers. By the end of the decade, it was 26 percent.
The authors raise the possibility that for men without a four-year college degree, frontline allied healthcare jobs may be the ticket to a stable middle-class lifestyle as they pay better and are more stable than blue collar work.