A weak (or at least relatively weaker) recovery for women

As the job numbers for 2012 keep coming out, economists and pundits are heralding a recovery. Employment is increasing, the unemployment rate is falling, and monthly revisions to those numbers give even greater cause for optimism.

Economist Betsey Stevenson was quick to note about last month’s numbers that job leavers were overtaking layoffs. Even regular people (who don’t watch these numbers like a hawk and compete to be the first to tweet them) are becoming more optimistic. It takes guts to leave a job you don’t like; it’s a lot easier to do if you think there is another one down the line.

But just like the recession hit groups unevenly, so too is the recovery having differential effects. Notably, women aren’t going back to work as quickly as men. The Pew Research Center came out with a report today on minority groups. The whole thing is worth a read, but notably:

Men experienced greater setbacks in the recession, losing twice as many jobs as women from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2009. In the recovery, however, men have gained four times as many jobs as women. The weakness of the recovery for women is underscored by the fact that they represent the only group among those examined in this report for whom employment growth lagged behind population growth from 2009 to 2011.

So, naturally, the question becomes why? Are women slower to return to work because there are fewer jobs available to them? Are they choosing to stay unemployed to remain at home with their families? Are they more picky about what jobs they should take having achieved some modicum of success before the recession?

I think it would be interesting to compare numbers for women in general and numbers for men with only a high school education–the group which is generally cited as having fared worst in the recession.

Update: Casey Mulligan of UChicago goes into the marriage aspect of the recession part of this phenomenon a bit more deeply over on the NYT Economix blog.


Author: ekfletch

I am an independent researcher on issues of gender, labor, violence, education, and children.

7 thoughts on “A weak (or at least relatively weaker) recovery for women”

  1. What I found interesting is that the _unemployment_rate_ for women is lower than that for men! I should not be surprised – traditional gender roles etc. mean fewer women opt to work than their male counterparts.
    In the same vein, though, I am not sure we can directly compare the increase in female employment (0.9%) to the working-age population growth (1.5%), since not all working-age women *choose* to work. Or does “working-age” women exclude the fraction who choose to be a stay-at-home mom or wife? Or has the latter fraction increased post-recession?

    1. Actually, the U rate is probably different for women because of the rate at which people lost jobs during the recession. Men, particularly males with lower educational attainment, lost jobs at a higher rate than did women during the recession.
      Labor force participation rates are different for men and women due to traditional gender roles and mother staying at home. U reflects people who don’t have work and want it, while LFP reflects people who want to work over all people who can work (of working age, physically able, etc).
      I’d additionally argue that not all men choose to work and the increase in the working-age population of women is likely to come from people who are young and thus least likely to become mothers. Would have to double-check their numbers.

      1. Trying to make sense of these numbers, and my head hurts. I had to first figure out how these numbers are calculated. Feel free to disregard this comment.

        I suppose one way to look at it is: do high-school-to-college-dropout men and women look for work in the same numbers? If fewer women do*, the recession probably affected men** much more severely
        * Traditional gender roles might be more important at lower education levels, you tell me.
        ** Also, men being paid more for the same job as women, so as an employer, why wouldn’t I fire the higher-cost employees to save more money?

        I calculated the “working/looking for work” fractions, and if I have it right, the numbers are (2007-2009-2011) for men: 72.9%, 71.0%, 70.4%; and for women, 59.7%, 58.7%, 58.2%. Doesn’t seem to make sense, as that indicates fewer people are looking for work consistently – but maybe this was before the last 2-3 months.
        Also, the ratio of working-age men to women seems to have been increasing from 0.935 to 0.939 to 0.945?!
        Not sure where the last two points fit into the whole discussion. If I can make sense of it, I will post later 🙂

      2. OK, the best I can do with the numbers I calculated earlier is:
        Even as the population has been growing, fewer people are looking for work. However, this dropoff is greater for women than for men.
        If I have the numbers right, so my conclusions are correct, then why is this happening? Why are relatively more women than men choosing not to work/look for work?

  2. Just as a quick sanity check, it might useful to take a look at what types of jobs were lost from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2009 as compared to the types of jobs that were added from 2009 to 2011. I have no idea if there’s any difference, but it finding out the answer could provide some insight.

    1. Off the top of my head, lots of construction jobs were lost and health care jobs have had some of the strongest gains. It’d all be on the BLS website.

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