SUNDAY EDITION | U of L economist looks at factors driving more men into nursing
Only about 13 percent of registered nurses in the United States were men in 2015, but the male share of the profession has risen steadily since 1960, according to research by a U of L economist.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In the 2000 comedy “Meet the Parents,” Ben Stiller’s character amazes the smug doctors who will soon be his in-laws when he tells them his profession: nursing.
Aaron Germann, 27, thinks it’s a “very funny” movie, but the 2014 University of Louisville graduate never wrestled with gender stereotypes when he decided to become a nurse.
“I have never had that stigma attached to me; I have always had really good support from my family and my friends in what I do,” said Germann, who works in the emergency room at Baptist Health Louisville.
Only about 13 percent of registered nurses in the United States were men in 2015, but the male share of the profession has risen steadily since 1960, when men made up about 2 percent of the field, according to a recent research paper co-authored by Beth Munnich, an assistant professor of economics at U of L’s College of Business.
From an economist’s standpoint, the rising share of male nurses is a “significant” trend – one that has not been mirrored in other traditionally female jobs such as primary school teachers, bank tellers and physicians assistants, Munnich said in an interview.
“It’s a success story in that we see people moving from other occupations and other industries into (nursing) and having really successful careers,” she said. “… Men are able to enter into nursing, where in the past, it has really be viewed as a woman’s job.”
Munnich and Abigail Wozniak, an economist at the University of Notre Dame, figure they can explain about half of the trend long-term through their analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources. (There simply isn’t enough information to explain the whole trend, Munnich said.)
Some of the shift, she said, has to do with the general surge in healthcare jobs as the U.S. population ages and more people are saddled with chronic diseases like diabetes.
“There is growing demand for healthcare on the whole, so men and women are both responding to this trend,” she said.
In their paper, Munnich and Wozniak also noted that over the last several decades, men “have faced increasing competitive pressure” in traditionally male-dominated occupations like manufacturing and construction because of factors like automation, foreign trade and immigrant labor.
Munnich said nursing is “an example of a possible career path for individuals coming out of fields that are declining,” though not enough data is available to confirm that.
Besides the economic factors, Munnich said some of the trend has to do with “general changes in attitude” about gender roles.
“Where the population overall views men and women as being able to equally go into different types of occupations, I think nursing is one example that is really picking up on that trend,” she said.
But why have men shifted into nursing but not into other female-dominated fields, such as teaching?
Munnich said it may have to do with nursing’s relatively high pay and low barriers to entry.
Nationwide, registered nurses were paid $72,180 on average in 2016, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the Louisville-Southern Indiana metro area, where wages generally run below the U.S. average, the figure was $63,130.
While a four-year degree is the first step to many specialized career paths, Germann and others in the field say, it takes only a two-year degree to become a registered nurse in any state.
But the male shift into the nursing hasn’t been uniform.
Men are much more likely to be nurses in “critical care” settings such as emergency and operating rooms. They are much less likely to work in home health, nursing home and primary care settings.
For example, men make up about half of nurse anesthetics, the advanced-practice nurses who administer anesthesia, but a much smaller share of nurse practitioners, who provide primary care, Munnich said.
She declined to speculate on the reasons for those preferences.
Germann started his career in Baptist’s telemetry unit before moving to the emergency room two years ago.
What he likes about the job, he said, is also what makes it challenging: “dealing with patients on a personal level.”
“Every person that you are meeting, they are here on their worst day,” he said.
Brian Doty, executive director of the American Association for Men in Nursing, said his group would like to see the male share of nurses rise to 20 percent by 2020.
The group was founded decades ago soon after nursing schools lifted World War II-era bans on accepting men, he said.
It now focuses not only on recruiting men to the profession, but also on underrepresented groups like blacks and Hispanics, he said.
Doty said the biggest factor driving men into nursing is the perennial shortage of workers, regardless of their gender, in the field.
“There has been some argument that the stigma is still there of nursing being a woman’s job, if you will,” Doty said. “I think the demand for healthcare is so high, everyone who is in it is glad to have extra help.”