Speech Pathology’s Gender Gap

By: Shane Reed, M.S., CCC-SLP

Published: 4/17/2024

I remember my first day of graduate school in 2018 and looking around the room. The nervousness had set in, and I was elated to begin my coursework and expand my knowledge in order to become the best future speech-language pathologist I could be. To no surprise, I was the only male in the room. I was told by faculty I was the first male in many years to pursue a master’s in communication sciences and disorders at the university I attended. Being the only male in my class did not bother me; however, it made me wonder if demographics for the field would change in future years. 

 3.6 percent – That is the 2022 ASHA published number for the percentage of males who are speech-language pathologists. A sharp contrast to 96.4 percent who are females providing communicative support within a variety of settings. Even when comparing the percentage from 2002 which showed males accounted for 4.7 percent of certified SLPs, there has been a slight decrease. Why the rarity? And why has the percentage not increased over the last 20 years? After all, our field has seen rapid growth over the years and the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts job outlook to increase by 19 percent from 2022 to 2032.  

 An article published in ASHAWire in 2013 titled “Where the Boys Aren’t” indicates factors that may play roles in the low percentage of males we see in the field. Some of these include income, gender roles and expectations, and deciding a major.  

 Income – With the rising cost of living and education, some may reconsider exploring the world of SLP due to preconceived thoughts of working in setting(s) that may not pay a desired amount, the trade-off of a bigger paycheck that would be received working in a different field, or taking on debt to complete a master’s degree. I did not enter this field to swim in dollar bills but to sharpen my skills towards communication and fuel my desire to help others. However, since graduating, money has become an aspect of the job, and it is nice to receive a healthy paycheck. ASHA has released surveys showing the average income received by SLPS in different settings. From the 2023 Health Care Survey, ASHA states that median full-time annual salary for an SLP in healthcare settings range from $82,000 for clinical service providers to $113,000 for administrators and supervisors with clinical service providers working within SNFs making the most by facility type at $97,100. Meanwhile, from the 2022 Schools Survey, SLPs working 9 or 10 months within schools received an average salary of $69,000.  

 Gender Roles and Expectations – The roles and expectations for men and women can differ from person to person. Unconsciously, we at times assign opinions and thoughts to others. I remember an individual explained to me the difference between how males and females think and indicated that females can handle a lot of information to multi-task. Their example included an analogy that female brains process information in order to complete tasks like spaghetti while male brains do so like rocks. I believe this mindset was fixed and based on assumptions, and I did not take it as fact. ScienceDirect states in traditional thought towards gender roles, men are expected to display masculine “features”. Some of these features include strength, power, competitiveness and invulnerability when it comes to the display of certain emotions. “Where the Boys Aren’t” tells that expectations have changed over the years. What once was expected for women to pursue fields that required nurturing instinct and for men to win the bread does not have to mirror today’s work culture. Men have the capability to help others and be healthy role models, and we too want to make a difference in the lives of others.  

 The Decision to Choose a Major – We hopefully enter fields because the subject matter stirs interests. I received speech therapy growing up as a child, my aunt was a speech-language pathologist, and a great family friend was also an SLP. I was exposed to the field throughout my young life which sparked my interest in CSD. There are many people I encounter day-to-day that do not know what an SLP is or does. “Where the Boys Aren’t” reports that 80% of undergraduate students declare their majors during their sophomore year, but males are more likely to wait to declare CSD as their major when compared to females. Only 46 percent of males compared to 65 percent of females declared before their junior year. Aligning with the two previous factors, males indicate that fields with equal gender ratio or more men have greater appeal as well as job security, competitive pay, and benefits being desired. These wants play crucial roles in profession selection for men. Maybe the early exposure and education of our field is just not always there, but it does not have to be that way. U.S. News Rankings listed speech-language pathologist to be the #11 Best Health Care Job and #31 in 100 Best Jobs. Not bad at all!   

 There is no doubt we work in a special field that impacts the lives of others. As more people become aware of the role speech-language pathologists have and the science behind what we do, I believe just as the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts, our field will grow. Hopefully, with the welcomed addition of more males ready to promote communicative success for others in need.

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