Nicholas Martin majored in economics and thought about getting a master's in business administration but chose nursing instead.

He's one of 12 men in the newest class at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. Martin, 26, chose medicine after an assignment in Kyrgyzstan as a Peace Corps English teacher got him interested in human service and health care.

"I didn't want to be behind a desk, or anything like that," he says. "I wanted to be on my feet. I really enjoy the interaction with people - whether it's education or health care."

But he's also playing the odds.

As the economy falls apart, health care, education and other sectors traditionally dominated by women are shedding jobs at a far slower rate than "male" occupations such as manufacturing and construction.

The pattern has caused an unprecedented gender gap in the unemployment statistics and talk of a "he-cession." Last month, the jobless rate among men was 10.6 percent, while among women it was 8.3 percent. Aside from a slightly wider gap in May, that's the largest difference since the government began keeping track in 1948.

As a result, men appear to show new interest in nursing and other traditional female jobs. Many want to switch from hard-hit "male" sectors.

"Recently I spoke with an engineer," says Brook Necker, admissions coordinator for the nursing department at Towson University. "I've also talked to a lawyer" and "someone from finance" - a bank vice president, she said.

Towson's newest nursing class of 72 includes 10 men - "the most male students we've had in a while," she says.

Don't be surprised if more men turn to teaching as well.

"We still do not have enough male teachers - and that is especially true of the elementary and middle schools," says Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Education.

The job gap prompts deep thoughts from the gender-minded. "The Death of Macho" is the headline from Foreign Policy magazine. "Manly men have been running the world forever. But the Great Recession is changing all that, and it will alter the course of history."

How that will happen when only a dozen of the Fortune 500 top U.S. corporations are run by women is a mystery.

As a practical matter, the divergence of male and female employment highlights Maryland's advantage in the he-cession. With higher shares of health care, education and government jobs (another sector with higher-than average employment of women) than other states, it's a relatively female-oriented economy.

That shows up in Maryland's overall unemployment rate of 7.2 percent for May, which was substantially lower than the national rate of 9.4 percent for that month.

It's true that national health insurance could reduce the growth of medical spending - and therefore the growth in nursing and other medical jobs. But at least the health professions will be growing. That's more than you can probably say about manufacturing.

"I wouldn't say that we've seen a huge increase in male applicants yet," said Sandra Angell, associate dean for student affairs at Hopkins' nursing school. Rather, she said, there has been a gradual rise since the school opened in the 1980s.

Nicholas Martin and the 11 other men in his class are learning alongside about 120 women, so men obviously aren't taking over.

But the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation projects that nursing and teaching, along with food service, housekeeping and computer engineering, will be among Maryland's fastest-growing job classes in the next decade - and maybe in the short term, too.

"With the way the recovery's going, they probably will be the ones that show the quickest growth - or any growth at all for a short period of time," says Bo Szczepaniak, DLLR's program manager for labor-market projections.

That's probably what Martin, who gets his nursing degree next year, is counting on. He wants to help people, not just get a paycheck. But the aging of the population and the prospect that the country will need more like him in coming decades, he says - "I definitely noticed that."

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