Is your veterinarian a woman? If he isn’t, chances are the one you use a few years from now will be. Why? Because veterinary medicine is undergoing a dramatic wave of "feminization."
In 1960, the veterinary field consisted of 98 percent men. It is 50.9 percent female today, a number that will only increase in the future as "old" male vets retire and current veterinary students, who are 70-80 percent female, graduate and enter practice.
A study published in the July 2010 issue of Social Forces looked into the reasons why the veterinary field has undergone such a dramatic transition.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t read the whole paper (it’s 42 pages long and I’m no sociologist, but if you want to take a look, I’d love to hear your thoughts). I did skim it over and read a few articles reporting on its findings, however, and was really shocked at what I found. Here’s a sample of what the author, Anne E. Lincoln, reports in her paper:
…research suggests that men avoid college majors and graduate academic fields that are between 24 and 54 percent female.
…for every 1 percent increase in women in the veterinary college student body, about 1.7 fewer men will apply the subsequent year. By comparison, each $1,000 increase in tuition reduces the number of applications from men to a college by about 1.2.
…the results of this study demonstrate only one consistent difference between male and female application patterns — men’s strong negative response to women’s increasing enrollment. Consequently, the notion that the engine of feminization is fueled by women who are inordinately attracted to veterinary medicine appears flawed — the feminization of veterinary medicine is really the demasculinization of veterinary medicine, driven by men’s lower rates of college graduation and their aversion to the presence of women students.
Really guys? You see a roomful of female pre-vet students and you head for the mechanical engineering class in the next building. What’s up with that?
The paper also offers potential reasons why men behave in this manner:
…the presence of women in an occupation may signal to prospective male entrants that the field has undesirable remunerative, promotional, or prestige characteristics.
Ahhh, that has a ring of truth to it. Nurses, teachers, child care providers — all professions dominated by women that are constantly struggling for the respect and pay that they deserve. I guess we can add veterinary medicine to the list now.
This paper also made me wonder whether the feminization of veterinary medicine could have anything to do with declining veterinary visits. Are you guys out there less likely to bring your pet to a clinic if it is staffed by female receptionists, technicians, and doctors? Maybe that is fodder for another study.
Dr. Jennifer Coates