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Can Men Be Doctors?
Seeking out representational models for children
My three year old daughter recently asked, with some skepticism, if men can be doctors. And I understand why she might wonder! So far in her life, almost everyone she’s seen in a medical context has been a woman.
At preschool, she hasn’t ever had a male teacher, and I don’t think that will change next year. From one perspective, this is good news for her:
Female students were more successful when their primary-school teachers were disproportionately female. Impacts are lifelong: female students taught by female teachers were more likely to move up the educational ladder by completing high school and attending college, and had higher lifetime family income and increased longevity.
And while I was working on this post, I saw one new NBER paper on this front:
Using student-level transcript data, we estimate the effect of speakers on future course-taking in models which use untreated lectures as control groups, including professor and semester fixed effects and student-level covariates. Alumni speakers increase intermediate economics course take-up by 2.1 percentage points (11%). Students are more responsive to same-gender speakers, with male speakers increasing men’s course take-up by 36% and female speakers increasing women’s course take-up by 40%, implying that the effect of alumni speakers is strongly gendered.
But this a place where it’s hard to figure out what kind of representational balance to strike. I want to raise strong, curious daughters, who know a range of options are open to them. But I also realize how few working men they see at this age.
I think the main jobs they can be certain that men do are: garbage man, coffee shop barista, high school teacher, priest.
In hissubstack, Richard Reeves has been writing about the exodus of men from HEAL professions (health, education, administration, and literacy).
As he writes:
Only one in ten elementary school teachers are male. In early education, men are virtually invisible. It ought to be a source of national shame that only 3% of pre-K and kindergarten teachers are men. There are twice as many women flying U.S. military planes as there are men teaching kindergarten (as a share of the occupation). […]
Getting men into HEAL would be good for them (because there are many jobs there), good for the professions (because they face labor shortages), and good for the boys and men using those services (because they often prefer a male provider). It would be a win-win-win.
I particularly appreciateraising that last point. Even if many men don't want to be teachers, many boys want there to be a few male teachers around as they're growing up and looking for what kind of man they can grow up to be.
I don’t expect the “neutral” split for all professions is 50-50. But when professions have a strong skew, I expect that it’s harder for the rarer men and women who would be happy doing those jobs to enter the fields. It’s not fun to stick out or to lack peers like you, and it’s harder to ask the question “Would I like to grow up to be an [X]?” if you don’t know anyone who seems analogous to you who works on X.
(This is why we want to make sure our daughters meet religious sisters—we don’t know what God will call them to, but we want to make sure they know that some women enter consecrated life).
I’ve always thought mostly about how to show children (boys or girls) more ways of being a woman, for fear they’ll otherwise think women’s options are too limited. But I’m wondering more how to show them a range of good men. For now, they get to see some of our grown up friends, and many dads helping in the after-church donut scrum.
When they’re bigger, I know at least one other option: