Why men can (and should) participate in the care economy too

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Katica Roy, CEO and Founder, Pipeline Equity


  • As a women-dominated industry, the care economy has succumbed to pay inequity via occupational devaluation.
  • Increasing the number of men working in the care industry would reduce the supply-side labour burden of women, freeing women to pursue careers in other industries.
  • It would also raise wages for all workers in the care industry, thus narrowing the gender pay gap.

While the COVID-19 pandemic brought the economics of care into vogue in policy circles, well-intentioned solutions dedicate only a modicum of attention toward how to equitably patch the holes in this industry. If we truly believe in the importance of gender equity and in the necessity of care infrastructure, why aren’t we formulating solutions to increase the number of men in care?

I propose a strategy for the care economy based on the premise of gender equity economics. As Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International said during Davos 2022, investing in childcare would “liberate the potential” of women.

If liberating women’s potential is the output, how might increasing men’s labour contribution to the paid care industry be the input? Achieving gender equity in the US could activate $3.1 trillion in economic energy. We owe it to ourselves to explore the viability of this solution.

Desegregating care work

Women dominate today’s care industry. In the US they represent 95% of the paid-care workforce. As a women-dominated industry, the care economy has succumbed to pay inequity via occupational devaluation. The average Latina childcare worker, for instance, made just $22,074 in 2020 – a barely liveable wage.

Occupational segregation and its derivative, occupational devaluation, plague other industries beyond childcare. Take information technology managers and human resources managers as an example. The former skews male and the latter female. Both demand similar levels of education and responsibility, yet information technology managers enjoy median earnings 27% higher than their human resources counterparts.

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Five decades of labour market data demonstrate the dynamic nature of occupational devaluation. As more women enter an industry, wages drop; as more men enter an industry, wages rise. One statistical experiment on the wage-gender spiral found that high-skilled jobs with a 0% women workforce would pay $1,555 per week, whereas high-skilled jobs with a 100% women workforce would pay only $840 per week.

That’s a 46% pay gap and this corroborates research that suggests how gender differences in occupation and industry explain 51% of the gender pay gap. In 2019 alone, gender-based occupational segregation robbed Black women of $39.3 billion and Hispanic women of $46.7 billion in income when compared to White men.

An equitable solution for a broken care economy

Occupational segregation matters because it constricts the supply of labour and impairs everyone’s economic outlook. Men are 50% of the population but makeup only 5% of the caregiving workforce. A third of childcare jobs vanished during the pandemic and more than 1 in 10 ten childcare workers have yet to return to the labour force.

To reimagine the care economy, we have to stop asking women to carry the burden of labour supply in this under-resourced industry. Increasing the number of men working in the care industry would achieve two economic objectives:

1. Reduce the supply-side labour burden of women in the care industry, freeing women to pursue careers in other industries

When we stop asking women to carry the supply-side burden of labour to the care industry, it frees them to pursue high-yielding careers in future-of-work industries. Women hold fewer than 25% of jobs in emerging professions such as artificial intelligence specialists, back-end developers, big data developers, data engineers, DevOps engineers, front-end engineers and full stack developers. In the growing field of cloud computing, women represent only 14.2% of the talent base. To engineer gender equity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need more women in STEM and more men in care.

2. Raise wages for all workers in the care industry, thus narrowing the gender pay gap

Increasing the share of men in the care workforce would grow the industry’s egregiously low wages, as demonstrated by the gender-wage spiral. Rising wages in the care workforce would alleviate the sting of the gender pay gap and provide relief to an economy on the brink of recession. Research shows that by closing the gender pay gap, we can strengthen the US economy by at least $512 billion.

Discover

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a profound sense of urgency for companies to actively work to tackle inequity.

The Forum’s work on Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Social Justice is driven by the New Economy and Society Platform, which is focused on building prosperous, inclusive and just economies and societies. In addition to its work on economic growth, revival and transformation, work, wages and job creation, and education, skills and learning, the Platform takes an integrated and holistic approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, and aims to tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity.

The Platform produces data, standards and insights, such as the Global Gender Gap Report and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 4.0 Toolkit, and drives or supports action initiatives, such as Partnering for Racial Justice in Business, The Valuable 500 – Closing the Disability Inclusion Gap, Hardwiring Gender Parity in the Future of Work, Closing the Gender Gap Country Accelerators, the Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality, the Community of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers and the Global Future Council on Equity and Social Justice.

Three steps toward gender parity in the care industry

Here are three steps policy-makers can take to reimagine the care industry with gender equity at the core:

  • Step 1: Incentivize careers in care for all genders not just women. Millions of dollars flow to programmes for women in STEM. We need similar programmes to incentivize men into caregiving careers. Study after study has shown that being a man and caring for people are not mutually exclusive.
  • Step 2: Measure the value of caregiving in formal economic reports. It’s time to take a more expansive, inclusive approach to measuring the economy. We need to recognize the value of paid and unpaid care in economic measures such as GDP. Colombia started reporting this data more than a decade ago and, in 2020, found that their care economy amounted to 20% of national GDP.
  • Step 3: Provide gender-neutral caregiver leave to reduce the stigma attached to caregiving. Nearly half, 48%, of fathers aspire to be full-time stay-at-home dads, but mainstream narratives around masculinity hold them back. Moreover, nearly two-thirds of men believe that taking time off work to spend with children would jeopardize their professional reputations. Offering gender-neutral caregiver leave to all employees can help destigmatize men’s role in the care economy.

Women have been burning both ends of the candle for decades now. It’s time to extinguish the flames of inequity and rebuild our broken care economy in the most equitable way possible.

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