The current economic recovery is unusual in how badly it is treating women. For the first time in our last six recession-recovery cycles—going all the way back to 1969—women have been losing jobs during a recovery while men have been gaining them.
This is the conclusion of the Pew Research Center‘s report released last week titled Two Years of Economic Recovery: Women Lose Jobs, Men Find Them.
The big news in the midst of the recession was how badly it was hurting men compared to women. But that’s not a new thing: during all six of these recessions, job losses were significantly worse for men than women.
In fact, lost in the noise of this gender-gap buzz is that this was the first recession during this forty-plus year period when women significantly lost employment along with men. During recessions of the late ‘60s, the ‘70s, and early ‘80s, women were actually gaining jobs even while men were losing theirs. How can this be? As the report explains:
That is a consequence of the rapid movement of women from the home to the office in those decades. The labor force participation rate for women increased from 43.3% in 1970 to . . . 57.5% by 1990. The rise in the number of women in the labor force was sufficient to mask the effects of the recessions on their employment level. As the labor force participation rate stabilized for women in the 1990s, they, too, experienced drops in employment during recessions.
Even in the most recent prior recession during 2001, while men’s percentage change in employment went down a full 2.0%, women’s employment went down only 0.4%. In contrast, during this recession, women’s employment went down a whopping 3.0%, a radical change.
Now during the recovery, the bad news continues for women. The recession officially ended June 2009. From then until May 2011, men have gained 768,000 jobs while women have lost 218,000.
My own initial assumption why this has been happening was that the teacher and governmental layoffs of the last year or so disproportionately hurt women. Turns out that’s true but is only a small part of the answer:
From June 2009 to May 2011, women lost 297,000 government-sector jobs, while men lost just 133,000. But this explains only a small portion of the gender gap in employment growth during the recovery.
The more notable developments are that men have found jobs in sectors where women have not, and that men made stronger advances than women in other sectors. In particular, women lost a total of 433,000 jobs in manufacturing, retail trade and finance during the recovery, while men gained 253,000 jobs in those sectors. Two other sectors — professional and business services and education and health services — gave women a strong boost; 691,000 new jobs in those sectors went to women. But men did even better, gaining 804,000 jobs in those two sectors. There is no ready explanation for why employment growth in these sectors has favored men.
My best (controversial) guess? Since men still lost a lot more jobs than women during the recession, it seems sensible that a significant portion of the particular jobs being filled during the recovery are ones that men previously held. Jobs for which men still tend to be hired.
Excerpts and graph: © 2011 Pew Research Center, Social & Demographic Trends Project
Two Years of Economic Recovery: Women Lose Jobs, Men Find Them.