The gender gaps in Massage

So here is a subject that may very well frustrate folks on both sides of the conversation. As a prelude to diving into some of the various gender gaps in the world of massage, let me me acknowledge my own personal opinions/beliefs.

I believe that women in America make some percentage (the various arguments about how big the wage gap is are endless) less than men in the same industry with identical experience. I also believe that it is easier for men to advance in most job titles in America.  The three industries that I can think of off the top of my head where these facts don’t seem to be true is Ob/gyn, nursing and massage therapy. I only have experience in massage, so I’ll be speaking to that.

The two gender gaps I’m writing about today are female/male ratios in massage therapy clients and male/female ratios in massage therapists.

While working in spas for about 9 years, I did some rough calculations several times of client demographics. These were very ad hoc, back of the napkin style data points. On average, the spas I worked for seemed to run about 20% male clients (usually accompanied by wife or girlfriend) and 80% female. While at the spas, I never had anyone identify as trans to me, so I have no idea what the spa usage is for the trans community, though for various reasons, I would imagine it to be very low.

In my private practice, I’ve tended to see a ~60% female clientele and about 39% male. I have had a handful of trans clients that I’ve seen in my private practice.  I believe that the higher male population in my private practice may be because some men are avoiding spas as “luxury” or “pampering” and seeing an individual therapist as “therapeutic” or “healthcare.”

One of the interesting interstitial questions about gender in the massage therapy business is who clients would like to see. Obviously in my private practice, all my clients have self-selected for a male massage therapist, so, without some seriously scary data mining tools, there is no way for me to know how many clients pass me over because I’m male.

In the spas, I was able to see some interesting behaviors around this question. About 75% of male clients in the spas I worked in requested female massage therapists only. About 50% of the female clients requested female therapists. About 5% of men and 10% of women requested male practitioners. These were clients that hadn’t already established a “preferred” list of people that they would ask to see (i.e.: once you decided you liked Molly, Evelyn and Crysti’s massages…you wouldn’t ask for a female practitioner, you’d ask for one of those three ladies).

Some of you have done the math and noticed that about 20% of the men and 40% of the women don’t typically have a strong preference regarding the gender of their massage therapist. Typically, these were more experienced clients that just wanted a good massage and were aware that the gender of the therapist should have no impact on the quality of the massage.

One of the problems that this gender preference created, and I believe continues to create for male massage therapists is this: most spas maintain a 4/1 or even a 5/1 ratio of female practitioners to male practitioners.  This may make it difficult for newer male therapists to get jobs fresh out of school. I don’t know what the non-spa environments are like for male therapists…though I wouldn’t be surprised to find them analogous.

If I seem to be painting a picture of men failing in the field…they aren’t really. While they are fewer and farther between, a quick scan of Yelp and Google search will certainly give you the impression that men are doing pretty well in their rankings given the disproportionately lower numbers of them in the field.

So, final point? It’s a bit easier to start as a massage therapist as a women,  as most spas have bought into the paradigm as it currently exists, and generally, so has the client population. All that said, you can be very successful as a man in this field….it may just take you a bit more time and work.

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