Hospital patients are more likely than ever to see a male nurse at their bedside — and odds are he earns more than the female nurse down the hall.
Men made up close to 10 percent of all registered nurses in 2011, according to a new Census report released today. That may not sound like much, but it’s up from less than 3 percent in 1970 and less than 8 percent in 2000.
It’s no mystery what is drawing men into nursing. Male-dominated professions such as construction and manufacturing hemorrhaged jobs during the recession and have been slow to rebound during the recovery. The health-care sector, meanwhile, actually added jobs during the recession and has continued to grow since. All told, health-care employment is up by nearly 1.4 million since the recession began, while employment in the construction and manufacturing sectors is down by nearly 3.6 million. Education and health workers have an unemployment rate of 5.4 percent, versus 7.9 percent for factory workers and 16.1 percent for construction workers.
Women still dominate nursing in terms of employment — but not in terms of earnings. The average female nurse earned $51,100 in 2011, 16 percent less than the $60,700 earned by the average man in the same job.
The difference in earnings is partly due to the fact that men were more likely than women to work full-time. When looking only at full-time, year-round workers, the gap narrows, but it doesn’t disappear; female nurses working full-time, year-round earned 9 percent less than their male counterparts.
Part of the reason, the Census study suggests, is a previously documented phenomenon known as the “glass escalator” in which men earn higher wages and faster promotions in female-dominated professions. In nursing, men are more concentrated in the highest-earning segments of the field. They make up 41 percent of nurse anesthetists, who earn nearly $148,000 on average, but only 8 percent of licensed practical nurses, who make just $35,000.
Even within a given field, however, men tend to earn more; among full-time, year-round registered nurses, women earned 7 percent less than men in 2011. The study’s authors note, however, that the wage gap is smaller in nursing than in the economy as a whole, where women earn on average 77 cents to the dollar, according to the Census report.