Panel – Men and Childcare

Even wonder why so few men enter the child care profession, especially as caretakers for very young children?  In Germany, the government is spending (a lot of) money to recruit men into the profession.  In that country men are in high demand because many parents don’t want their children looked after exclusively by women and about one third of mothers and fathers prefer day care facilities that have male staff. In the U.S., the situation is somewhat different; male childcare workers often have to explain themselves and why they do their job.

In the following piece, a guest blogger Lata Murti, contemplates a situation in her child’s daycare center involving a male childcare worker.  We invited sociologists Christine Williams, Barbara Risman, and Andrew Cognard-Black to comment and discuss some of the issues surrounding men who work in the childcare profession.

Even after years of studying gender as a sociologist, I was not prepared to see a man in the infant room on my daughters’ first day at a new child care center in August 2011.  I assumed the man was a dad.  When my three year old happily introduced me to “Teacher Adam” the next day, I realized that he was the first male child-care worker I had ever met (thus, my Biblically-based pseudonym for him– “Adam”).  I left the center very pleased that my family had chosen a seemingly progressive child-care facility in the small California city to which we had just moved.

I soon found out that not all of the parents or female staff were so pleased.  These staff and parents believe that men should not care for small children, especially infants, in a child-care facility, and that any man who wants to do so is a pedophile.  Thanks to their beliefs, Adam, the only man ever to be hired in the 25 year history of my daughters’ child-care center, no longer works there.  In fact, he will no longer be able to work with children ever again.

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Both men and women experience job discrimination when occupations are closely associated with either masculinity or femininity.  In my research on “men who do women’s work,” I found that men are often excluded from occupations that involve close contact with children due to stereotypes about male sexuality and suspicions of pedophilia.  Homophobia is often at the core of these damaging and destructive stereotypes.

Partially because of these stereotypes, men constitute only 2-3 percent of all preschool and kindergarten teachers.  However, those who remain in the occupation seem to do pretty well.  Data on median weekly earnings indicate that men out-earn women in this occupation by a sizeable amount—more than $700 compared to women’s $600.  (However, note that the occupation as a whole is woefully underpaid—no one is exactly thriving in these mostly dead-end jobs!)

So men are both discriminated against AND they earn more money than women.  How can we make sense of this paradox?

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By Barbara J. Risman, Professor and Head, Department of Sociology, University of Illinois at Chicago

There is no debate about the remarkable lack of men as child care workers.  This occurrence of apparent gender stereotypes driving one man away from the profession illustrates some core issues in the continuing saga of a somewhat stalled gender revolution.   Another illustration of the state of current gender politics is a Stanford educated lawyer, once her husband’s mentor in a law firm, describing herself as the mom-in-chief.

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Like Lata Murti, I, too, have been thinking, teaching, and writing about men and women at work for a long time, and my initial reaction to her story is one of regret for Adam.  Nearly simultaneously, though, I think about my own daughter and what my spouse and I expect of the people who care for her.  When I look back at the history of her baby-sitters, the majority of them (all but one) were women.  And when I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure I can dismiss the possibility that each of those independent decisions was gendered in some way.

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