Identity Mismatch

Here’s what I think is a useful concept—”identity mismatch”. From an article on the problems with worker retraining programs by Jeffrey Selingo at Atlantic:

So when you plug real people into the easy fixes designed by policy wonks, the situation suddenly becomes more complicated: Older workers who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom for decades are frightened by going back to school. Men don’t want to train for the jobs that are left in town, particularly in health care, because of the stigma of being employed in occupations traditionally filled by women—a phenomena that Lawrence Katz, a Harvard University labor economist, has frequently called an “identity mismatch,” rather than a skills mismatch. And in a country founded by people on the move, unemployed workers are unwilling to relocate to find work.

I’m not sure where you draw the line between identity mismatch on the one hand and stereotyping and bigotry on the other. Is the reason that there aren’t that many male kindergarten teachers because there aren’t many applicants for the jobs or because one reason or another is found to reject the applicants?

I think that identity is probably one of the components behind present joblessness but I don’t think it’s the only factor and maybe not the most important one. If we were creating a lot more jobs than we are, I’d be prepared to think it was a major factor.

Not everybody can be a doctor of medicine and it’s not just a matter of training. Other factors include the ability to master the subject material, personal culture and, frankly, preference. Similarly, I think it would be a mistake to try to train unemployed construction workers as kindergarten teachers. And, yes, one of the reasons for that is identity.

3 comments… add one
  • mike shupp

    The problem of being a male kindergarten teacher is that teachers of young children are generally assumed to be young and female, which means such jobs are relatively low paid with dismal prospects for promotion.

    But the example your author (and his source) actually point to is males in healthcare jobs. And I have to blink. Nobody sneers at male surgeons, let’s agree. Nobody seems perturbed by males who take X-rays, males who examine blood samples, etc. I don’t recall dealing with male physical therapists at any point, but I assume there are some. There’s certainly a batch of male nurses these days, in increasing numbers, and at least as a patient they seemed as competent as females, and as satisfied with their jobs.

    This “identity mismatch” thing might be a passing concern, or perhaps chiefly a concern of people already too old and too stupid to be retrained.

  • Gray Shambler

    ” too old and too stupid to be retrained”
    HEY! I resemble that remark!

  • Guarneri

    My personal experience is that relocation and identity issues are very real. I’ve written about it numerous times here. There is no reason a woman can’t be an electrician, or a man a receptionist, but it’s not the usual case.

    As for teachers…….don’t stand, don’t stand so, don’t stand so close to me………

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