The Gender Gap in Social Work: Why Aren’t More Men Pursuing a Master’s in Social Work?

Social work is a female-dominated field with women accounting for the vast majority of social workers. In 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 83 percent of employed social workers were female.

What lies behind this social work gender gap and how can the industry encourage more men to study and practice social work?

The many reasons that have been posited for the social work gender gap include:

  • pay rates
  • more women [historically] in the social service workforce
  • perception of social work – and mental health care in general – as a “feminine” industry.

Despite this view, there are many excellent career opportunities in social work for men, and the industry would benefit from greater gender balance and diversity.

The Lack of Male Social Workers

The New York Times reported that men account for less than 10 percent of social workers under the age of 34. Numbers have also fallen among professional counselors – with men accounting for 10 percent of the American Counseling Association’s membership, down from 30 percent in 1982 – and appear to be declining among marriage and family therapists as well.

male-social-worker-talking-with-other-social-workersAccording to a large-scale Membership Workforce Study published by the National Association of Social Workers, only 10 percent of current male social workers considered entering the profession before college. This suggests that the majority of men dont consider social work a viable career option. The same study also revealed that men are most likely to be influenced to become a social worker by another social worker, which is concerning given the lack of men in the industry.

Whats Keeping Men Away?

In an article for the Guardian, David Galley, a senior lecturer in social work at Bournemouth University who is studying the perceptions of male social work students, says, “men have been noticeably absent on the front line of services, but more prominent in managerial roles.”

Galley also notes that the reasons for this gender imbalance are varied and complex. “As a profession, it has a lower status and salary range than some comparable occupations. Gender biases about caring roles being better suited to women may apply. Especially in response to child abuse allegations, some men may be reluctant to enter social work because of its association with child protection practice.”

Galley says that the degrees required for social work are increasing “at the same time that male students’ academic results appear to be decreasing compared to their female counterparts.”

Why Men Should Consider Social Work

Despite these barriers, men who do enter the field find social work a highly fulfilling profession with plenty of future prospects. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook is excellent. Overall, employment of social workers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

Employment growth will be driven by increased demand for health care and social services generally, but will vary by specialty. For example, employment of both health care social workers and mental health and substance abuse social workers is projected to grow 19 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Social work urgently needs more men with education in the field to improve the diversity of care available across a wide range of areas.

How to Become a Social Worker

The good news is that men who do wish to enter this challenging and rewarding field will find their skills, services and outlook are greatly valued. The steps to become a social worker for men are straightforward. First and foremost, practitioners require a license (at a minimum) to practice. To be eligible for that license they need a CSWE-accredited degree. Depending on previous education and experience, a bachelor’s or master’s level degree will be appropriate.

Bachelor’s VS Master’s

A Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), which prepares students for entry-level general practice in family services, child welfare, public health or substance abuse.

An MSW program offers the opportunity to choose a specialization or concentration in a field of practice, which affords even more career opportunities.

Discover the many paths that an MSW could bring to both prospective male and female students and start your career today.