NILS Working Paper no 175. Low skill men’s access to ‘feminine’ care jobs in Australia: An occupational case study approach
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Labour market restructuring and the emergence of the ‘service economy’ have had profound impacts on the nature of work and the gender composition of employment in industrialised countries. Stagnating participation rates for low skilled men suggests that this cohort is struggling to adjust to the demands of the new economy. Centred around detailed case studies of two strategically chosen female dominated occupations, this research uses occupational sex segregation - a concept traditionally used to explain women’s employment outcomes – to understand what supports and what deters low skilled men from obtaining employment in traditionally female care occupations in Australia. The occupations selected for case study were aged care and child care. The case study approach involved 68 interviews with men who might take jobs in these occupations (i.e. unemployed men), employers, male workers and clients. The research finds that there are a number of factors operating on both the supply and demand side of the labour market that affect men’s willingness and ability to gain employment within these ‘feminine’ caring occupations. Gender essentialism was central to many of these processes and the paper highlights the mechanisms by which this operates to limit men's movement into female dominated care occupations. Despite the power of gender essentialism in producing occupational sex segregation, the research also finds that processes on both the supply and demand side reduced or moderated its impact. The paper concludes by discussing the implication these findings have for the ways in which gender segregation is theorised and generated in the workplace.