In a couple of short articles that combine two major themes of recent BCC posts, employment for women and unemployment due to the current economic climate, the Financial Times is reporting that our economies are experiencing a “very male recession”.
The current economic crisis is shining a spotlight on male and female employment trends and revealing the alarming effect of disparity in compensation. In the United States, “men make up half of the workforce but have shouldered more than three quarters of the 5.1m job losses since the recession started.” This is a result of male/female employment rates in the sectors hit hardest by the recession: “Men have been disproportionately hurt because they dominate those industries that have been crushed: nine in every 10 construction workers are male, as are seven in every 10 manufacturing workers. These two sectors alone have lost almost 2.5m jobs. Women, in contrast, tend to hold more cyclically stable jobs and make up 75 per cent of the most insulated sectors of all: education and healthcare.” The third hardest-hit sector, which is also dominated by males, is finance. Women’s employment choices in “more cyclically stable jobs” such as in education and healthcare has shielded them to some extent during the Recession. The male unemployment rate is at 8.8% while the female unemployment rate is at 7%, whereas both were closer to 5% before this downturn.
But both articles note that this disparity, which seems to be a result of male interest in jobs/industries that happen to be the most susceptible to economic downturns (construction, manufacturing, finance), is highlighting that women earn less than men. Also, many of the jobs women often choose to do are not only lower paying but do not provide benefits such as health insurance. These are facts that are often cited but in this economic cycle people are feeling their effects more than ever. “The widening gap between male and female joblessness means many US families are solely reliant on the income the woman brings in. Since women earn on average 20 per cent less than men, that is putting extra strain on many households.”
With these things in mind, some possible outcomes of the Recession could include:
– initially, families making do with less as they are supported by women who earn less but in more stable industries
– the entrance of men into less cyclically vulnerable sectors
– less wage disparity between men and women in the workplace
– more two-income families as men re-enter the workforce in their cyclically vulnerable professions after having been supported by women who took up jobs in the more stable industries during the downturn and then stay in their jobs
It’s hard to imagine that an outcome will be more women in the construction or manufacturing industries. Are women hardwired to be less interested in these types of work? Whatever the reason they weren’t more heavily represented in those industries before the Recession, the first FT article notes that the jobs in these industries pay on average $220 more per week than the jobs in the industries dominated by women.
Are women being paid less in the same jobs? We know that studies have been conducted that seem to show this; however, (anecdotally) I am reasonably certain that women in my workplace in the same job earn the exact same amount. Are the jobs in these cyclically vulnerable industries more highly compensated because primarily men are doing them or for other market-related reasons stemming from the nature of that work? These questions, particularly the latter, seem relevant to an analysis of the potential effect that this Recession could have on pay disparities in the end. At the very least, it is throwing the situation of earning disparities into stark relief as more families than before rely on women as the sole breadwinners in the home, at least temporarily.