Why do 'girly jobs' pay so poorly?

It's time to start paying kindergarten teachers, nurses, and social workers what they're worth to society, says Nancy Folbre in the N.Y. Times

Many women still enter unprofitable careers like teaching and social work, despite the obvious downsides.
(Image credit: Corbis)

The salaries for most "girly jobs" — say, teaching kindergarten or social work — are woefully low, says economics professor Nancy Folbre in The New York Times. And yet, many women still decide to enter these careers. Why? Studies show that women often "place less importance on money and more importance on people and family than men do" — and services like child care and elder care simply aren't "rewarded by a market-based economy." They do, however, help "create — and maintain — good people," writes Folbre. Which is why we "need to figure out how to honor girly values while earning manly pay." Here, an excerpt:

Both biological and cultural factors can explain attitudinal differences between women and men. In our society, caring for others has long been considered an essential aspect of femininity (social psychologists devote considerable effort to measuring such things)...

What’s striking is the high cost of femininity. Many traits that contribute to women’s success in finding a male partner don’t pay off in the labor market – and vice versa. As one economic analysis of a speed-dating experiment puts it, "Men do not value women's intelligence or ambition when it exceeds their own." By contrast, intelligence and ambition contribute to men’s success in both the “dating market” and the labor market.

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Women who want to avoid the hazards of girly jobs can move into manly ones like petroleum engineering (the college degree leading to the best salary in 2009). But women have good reason to be more interested in social engineering.

Read the full article at The New York Times.

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