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New Research Summary: Why does gendered labor segregation persist?

Photo by Yan Krukov from Pexels

We sat down with Dr. Angelica Puzio (Stanford University) to discuss her new contribution to our flagship journal, Psychology of Men and Masculinities. In the article, entitled "Gender Segregation in Culturally Feminized Work: Theory and Evidence of Boys' Capacity for Care," Puzio and Valshtein explore the factors contributing to men's drastic underrepresentation in health care, early childhood education, and domestic (HEED) work. This important work enhances understanding of the perpetuating factors of gendered labor segregation in HEED careers as well as proposes novel ways to address labor de-segregation. We encourage readers to check it out!

Puzio, A., & Valshtein, T. (2022). Gender segregation in culturally feminized work: Theory and evidence of boys’ capacity for care. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 23(3), 271–284.

What were the key questions you were addressing in this article?

We wanted to understand why gendered labor segregation persists despite rising gender egalitarianism around the globe, particularly within certain forms of health care, early childhood and elementary education, and domestic work (often collectively referred to as “HEED” fields). The number of women entering previously “masculinized” fields has grown substantially in recent decades, whereas the number of men working in jobs that Americans generally associate with women has remained almost stagnant. In a world that is moving towards a more egalitarian gender landscape, why does this singular gender disparity remain so resistant to change? We wondered if synthesizing previously separate literatures and sources of data could help us get closer to an answer, and so we conducted a grounded theory analysis of existing literatures to create a more unified theory of how this persistence is fueled and how it can be challenged.

What were the main conclusions of your article?

We identified four interrelated sources of gendered labor segregation, and we argue that the seeds of these phenomena are planted early in development: (1) the gender stereotyping and devaluation of feminized skills, (2) the unequal gender socialization of emotional and relational skills in childhood, (3) the racialized “glass escalator” effect and hostile climate issues faced by men in HEED careers, and (4) disproportionate incentivizing of research on gender segregation in feminized professions. We use these four conditions to argue that labor de-segregation becomes possible through restoring men’s already present—yet often concealed and untapped—capacities for nurturance and care, rather than “reforming” men in a way that nurtures these qualities into existence.

What are some key implications of your findings for future research or practice?

Perhaps one of our most key assertions is that addressing labor segregation must come from both a higher social valuation of jobs traditionally associated with women, but also an effort to restore or reinvigorate men’s caring capacities that already exist, but are often “underground,” as Carol Gilligan might put it. We argue that these shifts in how we think about and combat labor disparities must be intersectional in recognizing how gender disparities are deeply raced and classed, and also that the conditions of persistence that we identify (low valuation of HEED jobs, the gender socialization of caring skills, etc.) are phenomena that begin and can be interrupted in boyhood.

Where do you see this line of research heading in the future (i.e., what's next)?

As a developmental psychologist, my interest lies in promoting healthy resistance to norms of masculinity among boys. If we only talk about labor segregation as it pertains to adults, we deny the obvious reality that children are learning about, thinking about, and dreaming about how they want to move through the world in the future—and hegemonic gender structures are unfortunately at play in influencing their developing aspirations. Given this, I’m interested in how boys’ visions of their possible futures can be expanded, and whether disrupting typical masculine career archetypes can nourish boys’ interest in futures that revolve around care or other skillsets that are often associated with women.

How did you become interested in this line of inquiry?

The boys and men in my life, especially my two brothers, embody what Elliott might call “tender masculinities.” Through them I became fascinated by how men sustain their capacity for care in a culture that often requires their concealment of these qualities in order to sustain itself. I found that hegemonic masculinity was typically absent from conversations about labor segregation, despite that “women’s” workplace issues are fundamentally unsolvable without men’s partnership. I particularly struggled when STEM gender equality activism failed to grapple with the way that our culture reveres jobs that are associated with stereotypically masculine skillsets—and how this lopsided effort leaves us unable to address labor segregation in its true and fullest extent across fields. I felt dissatisfied with the state of our discourse and proposed solutions; if we’re talking about ending gender inequality in representation among engineers and mathematicians, we must also consider nurses and preschool teachers. I wanted to contribute to the conversation by building on the work of others, much of which takes place in the sociology of work and employment, and combine it with my own expertise at the intersection of developmental and social psychology—that’s how this work came to be.

Angelica Puzio, Ph.D.

Incoming Postdoctoral Scholar

Stanford University

Clayman Institute for Gender Research

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