The past quarter-century has been an extraordinarily stable period for the economy (as we accumulated debt to maintain growth). With only two recessions since 1982, both mild and brief, we’ve forgotten what recessions are like. So we get analysis like this:
“Mancession Continues: Male-Female Jobless Rate at Historic Levels, Higher Than Last Two Recessions“, Mark J. Perry (Professor of Economics at Michigan U ), posted at his blog Carpe Diem, 2 October 2009 — Hat Tip to the Instapundit. Excerpt:
The current male-female jobless rate gap of 2.6% is three times higher than the maximum gap during the last recession and more than two times higher than the peak gap of 1.1% following the 1990-1991 recession. These facts about the male-female jobless rate gap are not only incontrovertible, they are truly unprecedented and historic.
They are neither unprecedented nor historic.
Men routinely suffer greater job losses than women (as Perry notes). But just as this is the worst labor downturn since the 1930’s, so the men-women gap is the largest since the 1930’s. But it is not worse than during the 1930s, although we have only unreliable data other than the 1930 and 1940 censuses (for more about this see “Calculating the Unemployment Rate“, The Liscio Report, 23 January 2009)
For a detailed analysis, see
- “The Unemployment Gender Gap During the Current Recession“, Aysegul Sahin et al, Federal Reserve Bank of NY,
- “The Labor Market during the Great Depression and the Current Recession“, Linda Levine, Congressional Research Service, 19 June 2009
(1) “The Unemployment Gender Gap During the Current Recession“, Aysegul Sahin et al, Federal Reserve Bank of NY — Abstract:
The condition of the U.S. labor market has been deteriorating rapidly during the current recession. Payroll employment declined by close to 7 million and the unemployment rate increased to 9.7%, the highest level since 1983. Interestingly, a breakdown of the employment figures shows that, the current recession has had a more adverse effect on men than women. Since the start of the recession, the unemployment rate for men has increased much more than for women. To understand the underlying forces behind these differences we make use of the labor market flows data, specifically the flows in and out of unemployment. We document that the disproportionate increase in the unemployment inflow rate for men caused this discrepancy. A close look at the sectoral composition of job losses reveals that men are more concentrated in the sectors that were hit hardest by the recession. Furthermore, compared to previous recessions, we find that more men have flown into unemployment from nonparticipation contributing to men’s higher unemployment rate.
(2) “The Labor Market during the Great Depression and the Current Recession“, Linda Levine, Congressional Research Service, 19 June 2009. Here are 3 brief excerpts from this data-rich report.
A labor market analysis of the Great Depression finds that many workers were unemployed for much longer than one year. Of those fortunate to have jobs, many experienced cutbacks in hours (i.e., involuntary part-time employment). Men typically were more adversely affected than women. This was especially true for older and black men at a time when age- and race-based job discrimination were not unlawful and when occupational shifts in labor demand were operating against them.
Demographic and Occupational Characteristics of the Great Depression
The percentage of the working-age population employed fell substantially between 1930 and 1940, as shown in Table 1. Virtually all of the decrease occurred among men, with the proportion of the male population with jobs dropping 10 percentage points to 67.5%.
… The varying impact of technological developments by occupation also helps to explain the differing pattern of job loss across gender and age groups. Increased mechanization and the advent of the assembly line permitted substitution of semiskilled workers for skilled workers, which operated to the advantage of women and younger men compared to older men.
… The varying impact of technological developments by occupation also helps to explain the differing pattern of job loss across gender and age groups. Increased mechanization and the advent of the assembly line permitted substitution of semiskilled workers for skilled workers, which operated to the advantage of women and younger men compared to older men.7 As shown in Table 2, the proportion of workers in skilled occupations fell from 12.9% to 11.7% between 1930 and 1940, with the entire decrease occurring among men. Older men in particular were displaced by mechanization because skilled workers more often were age 45 and older.8 In contrast, few women worked in skilled occupations (0.8% in 1930) while many more worked in the growing semiskilled occupations (23.7% in 1930).
In part because mechanization also could substitute for physical strength, the demand for unskilled workers fell as well. This, too, adversely affected men to a greater extent than women because men more often were unskilled farm and nonfarm (construction and factory) laborers whose jobs could be replaced by machinery. (See Table 2) Black men in particular were susceptible to the shift in demand away from unskilled jobs because the occupations of farm and nonfarm laborers accounted for 43% of employed black men compared to 17% of employed white men. In contrast, unskilled women primarily were servants whose jobs could not as readily be supplanted by machinery.
Women also fared better than men during the Depression due to the increased demand for workers in white-collar occupations (e.g., professional and clerical workers). Growth in whitecollar occupations was especially pronounced among clerical and related workers, which, as seen in Table 2, was the single largest employment category for women. In contrast, men’s concentration in the farm operator category meant that they suffered most directly the consequences of the shift from an agrarian to an industrial economy. Black men were especially vulnerable: farm owners and tenants accounted for 21% of black men’s employment in 1940 compared to 14% of white men’s employment.
Similarities between the Great Depression and today’s recession
The greater concentration of men in cyclically sensitive industries and occupations contributes to the more adverse impact of recessions on male members of the labor force. One means of measuring this differential effect is to examine the trend in employment by gender.
During the Great Depression, the number of employed women increased while the number of employed men decreased. In 1940, men accounted for
- 94.3% of persons employed in the mining industry,
- 98.3% of those in the construction industry, and
- 78.0% of workers in the manufacturing industry.
In that year, men also composed
- 97.9% of craft workers,
- 96.8% of nonfarm laborers, and
- 75.2% of operatives and related workers.
Seven decades later, men remain the dominant jobholders in the goods-producing sector: in 2008, men accounted for
- 87.2% of employment in mining,
- 90.3% in construction, and
- 70.7% in manufacturing.
Last year, men also composed
- 97.5% of workers in construction and extraction occupations (e.g., craft workers, laborers) and
- 70.3% workers in production occupations (e.g., machine operators, assemblers).
Partly as a result, men’s employment overall fell precipitously — by 5.4% (4.3 million) — from 78.3 million in December 2007 to 74.0 million in May 2009.
Despite their somewhat increased presence over time in these industries and occupations, women experienced substantially less job loss than men during the current recession. The number of employed women fell 2.2% (1.5 million) from 68.0 million in December 2007 to 66.5 million in May 2009.
The comparatively worse impact of recessions on male employment is not limited to the Great Depression and the recession that began in December 2007. According to an analysis conducted in 1993 of data from the Current Employment Statistics program, which began to collect data by gender in 1964, most of those who lost jobs in the five recessions that occurred between December 1969 and March 1991 were men. The researchers found that although women lost jobs in the last two of the five recessions covered by their analysis, men lost 9 to 19 times more jobs than women in the July 1990-March 1991 and July 1981-November 1982 recessions, respectively. They concluded that
[t]he chief explanation for the vast differences in employment loss between women and men in recessions concerns the proportions of jobs held by women in the various industries…. [B]ecause the goods-producing industries bear most of the job loss during recessions and because employment in this sector is heavily male, men lose the great majority of jobs in recessions. The industry divisions that fare best during recessions, services and government, have a high concentration of women, partially accounting for women’s relative job stability.”
The more negative effect of the Great Depression and recent recessions on male members of the labor force also is discernible from unemployment statistics. As was the case during the Depression, unemployed men as a proportion of the male labor force exceeded unemployed women as a proportion of the female labor during the last three recessions.
- At the end of the 1981-1982 recession in November, the unemployment rate among men measured 11.1% compared to 10.2% among women;
- at the end of the 1990-1991 recession in March, the male unemployment rate was 7.2% compared to a female unemployment rate of 6.3%; and
- at the end of the 2001 recession in November, the unemployment rate for men measured 5.7% compared to 5.4% for women.
- Similarly, in May 2009, 17 months into the latest recession, men’s unemployment rate was 10.5% as opposed to women’s unemployment rate of 8.0%.
Articles about the changing balance of men and women
- “The Mancession“, Catherine Rampell, blog of the New York Times,10 August 2008
- “Women gain as men lose jobs“, USA Today, 2 September 2009
On the FM website:
- Women dominating the ranks of college graduates – What’s the effect on America?, 7 July 2009
- A better answer to “why women outperform men in college?”, 8 July 2009
- Women as soldiers – an update, 25 August 2009
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