The term white-collar has come to define work done in a professional environment; blue-collar, for the most part, means manual labor. But there is another color-coded area in which jobs are rapidly expanding, both on the national level and in New Jersey.

Positions in the service industry typically dominated by women, like in the retail, food service, and secretarial fields, are known as "pink-collar jobs." Teresa Boyer, executive director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University, said these are some of the "fastest-growing sectors in the New Jersey economy."

Expanded workforce demand for the skills that correspond to these careers, and others including the healthcare industry, has led to a "big boost" in that economy, according to Boyer. An analysis released last month by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that eight out of the top 12 fastest-growing professions in the country qualify as pink-collar.

Yet even as these jobs make a positive overall impact, long-standing drawbacks related to the gender wage gap are discouraging men from honing their skills to join these fields.

"Our workforce tends to be very gendered in how we both select and move through careers," Boyer said.

As she puts it, you "can't separate" the potential for lower incomes, decreased likelihood of a defined pension plan, and access to other benefits from the gender factor.

"A lot of research has shown that because these are women's jobs, and women dominate in them, the pay has gotten comparably lower," Boyer said. "Men, who we often think of as needing to be the breadwinners and having the good job with the benefits, etc., outdated though that may be, would be avoidant of these kind of jobs."

She also said men might not feel they are good or qualified enough.

"Some people, because of the perceptions of a career as being 'woman's work' or 'not a good job,' are not attracted to the field," Boyer said.

The irony here, according to Boyer, is that many pink-collar careers now strongly associated with women, like nursing, began with men as the primary workers. But perceptions have changed over time.

"Historically, these jobs were actually male-dominated," she said. "So things like a secretary, or a person working in retail, a clerk or something like that, were traditionally men before women started entering the paid workforce in sheer numbers."

When women did begin to work more, and eventually assumed increasingly powerful roles as CEOs or in the engineering and science fields, public opinions of men working in traditional female jobs sank lower and lower.

"We tend to not think of them as empowered, we tend to take the opposite view, and I think that's part of what's going on with people's avoidance of this (type of) job, men in particular," Boyer said.

Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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