My friends and I were sitting at lunch when somehow the topic of “pink-collar” jobs came up — a term I had never heard before. Upon looking it up, I found that Webster’s Dictionary defines it simply as “constituting a class of employees in occupations traditionally held by women.” In contrast, the blue-collar job, those that pay hourly wages for industrial or manual labor, are dominated by men.
Thinking back to my friends at lunch, the three of us made an interesting bunch. My friend Ashley is an engineer, a job not traditionally known to be pink-collar (although these women are changing that — #ILookLikeAnEngineer.). Meredith is a nurse, decidedly pink-collar. As for me, I’m an interior designer by day.
“That’s a hot pink-collar,” they told me. I agreed.
By definition, pink-collar jobs have historically been dominated by females. They range from nurses and interior designers to secretaries and teachers. These jobs are in the service industry and highlight archetypes of “female personalities,” of being loving nurturers, caregivers, and planners. Of course, these attributes are broad generalizations and likely born of social constructs in and of themselves. (Though I do admit, I plan to nurture a love of Netflix when I get home today, so not all stereotypes are false.)
Economists theorize that it benefits society as whole when gender representation within occupations is balanced. As behavioral economist Teresa Ghilarducci told the The New York Times, “One of the reasons why it’s so important, from an economists point of view, that occupations are more integrated, is because it makes the economy more efficient…If you have artificial barriers to a job, then you don’t have people getting the best matches.”
Such artificial barriers to entry prevent otherwise competent and driven employees from pursuing jobs merely because of social stigma. In a way, it’s like when there’s a really long line to the women’s bathroom in a restaurant, but no line at all to the men’s. You don’t go in the men’s because everyone would see you and judge you, even though that’s exactly what you really want to do. Getting rid of the social stigma and splitting everyone up into two bathrooms is more efficient and really makes the whole operation run much more smoothly for all.
You might be thinking, “But I know a male nurse. And some male teachers.” And you’re right. We have begun seeing a shift. Since the economy crashed in 2007, there has been a boom in males in pink-collar professions. When research analyst Mary Gatta discussed this phenomenon recently with NPR, she was sure to point out that men aren’t taking away jobs from women in these fields.
Part of the reason men are incentivized to work in jobs such as healthcare and teaching is because these have been growing industries throughout the 2000s. Traditionally male dominated blue-collar jobs? Not so much. Gatta points out, “We saw during the recession that industries that were dominated by men were particularly hard hit with job cuts.”
As a card carrying pink-collar worker myself, I would always argue that one should pursue his or her passion with abandon, regardless of the expectations of others. These expectations, whether from society at large or a loving family member, as well-intentioned as they may be, are not enough to base a career on.
After all, there should not be male nurses or female engineers, but rather nurses and engineers. There should not be men’s work or women’s work. There should only be work. Work that you as an individual find purpose and meaning through.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.