Gender & The Economy

As the economy continues to spiral down, the percentage of workers who are women continues to rise. Unfortunately, this is not due to an increase in the hiring of women. Rather, it is due to the fact that the majority of jobs being lost are held by men. As such, as the number of employed men drops, the percentage of the work force composed of women will increase.

Somewhat ironically, the jobs that are being lost have often tended to be jobs that pay relatively well. Meanwhile, certain lower paying jobs remain. This helps explain the gender shift: men generally have the better paying jobs and women tend to have the lower paying jobs. Further, the jobs that are being lost have tended to be in fields that are male dominated (finance, manufacturing, etc.).

While the majority of people losing their jobs have been men, this has obviously not been a good time for women. Women are not moving into better jobs-they are mainly just keeping the same jobs. Further, in most families the main income provider is still the man. Thus, the reduction in male employment is hurting women indirectly.

Interestingly, I have heard some arguments to the effect that this change can be advantageous to women by shifting the balance of power in the family. After all, power goes with income and if the woman becomes the main provider, then her power will increase. However, this shift in power obviously comes at a cost: while some women might benefit from this shift, the family as a whole will be worse off financially. Also, as noted above, this situation is not a case in which women are making gains in the workplace. They are, rather, not losing as badly. At least for now.

One point of concern is the impact that this shift will have on the family. On one hand, families sometimes grow closer and stronger in times of crisis and stress. On the other hand, families sometimes shatter under such stress. Given that one major factor in marital problems is money, it is not unreasonable to worry that the gender shift could lead to an increase in divorces.

Historically, gender shifts in employment have occurred in times of crisis (mostly wars) and have lead to lasting effects. For example, the entry of women into the workforce during WWII (to replace the males who were off in the war) changed how women and work were viewed. While the 1950s saw a return to more “traditional” roles, the impact of the shift remained. The same will probably be true of the latest gender shift. It will remain to see what sort of impact it will have.

  1. Mike, I just have a few questions. First, you make rather large claims in this piece. It would be good to have so current data that supports the trends that you speak of. Is it true that most women are employed in lower paying jobs? Is it true that most of the jobs being lost are now filled by men? Is this gender shift actually reflected in stats that are available now? My own perceptions of the workforce are very different. Doubtless, there are many low paying jobs being filled by women, but more than ever women are finding their niche in fairly high-paying types of employment. Universities have been posting very high rates for women in law and medicine, for example, of the last two or three decades. Electronic and print journalism seems to employ large numbers of women. Many women in non-traditional (for women) types of employment, like military and police, have been increasing steadily over the last few years.

    As to income and power going together, it’s perhaps interesting to look at African traditional societies, where women do much of the work, but where men still occupy positions of power in the family.

    Mind you, I’m not saying that you are wrong, but I do think we need some more evidence that the trends are making in the way that you suggest, and that this does represent a major gender shift under present economic conditions.

  2. I concur with the poster above that some data to back up some of the claims presented would be helpful.

    It’s interesting, I visit a lot of political blogs where linking to data (even if sometimes the data is bad and comes from what are effectively ideological propoganda producers) is a common practice. On the few philosophy blogs I visit…not so much.

  3. Here are some supporting links:

    Support for the claim about the gender gap in the job loss:

    http://www.newsdaily.com/stories/tre50l12t-us-workplace-men/

    Information on the wage gap:

    http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm?aid=3883

    http://money.cnn.com/2009/02/02/smallbusiness/fair_pay_act.smb/

    These are mostly concerned with the United States, so further research would be needed for each specific country in the world.

  4. “….data .. ”

    Maybe philosophy does not need data and can still get to the right place without. I hate the so-called quantitative research in my area. just like counting how many times one blinks in one minute can make you know what kind of person they are. So—o funny.

  5. I think that Eric makes a good point, which has nothing to do with statistics. The fact that women become chief wage earners does not necessarily do away with or lessen machismo. The experience of Latin America, especially among the working class and sub-working class, indicates that although women work at times more than men do, machismo persists, perhaps in a changed form,
    but woman’s work often ends up maintaining the male members of the family (husband, teenage male children) as non-functional princes.

  6. Thanks for the links Mike, I’ll check them out.

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