Yesterday’s Economic Snapshot showed how women’s and men’s employment prospects have fared in the Great Recession and its aftermath. Women have regained 2.9 million jobs, bringing them back to pre-recession levels, and men have gained 2.7 million jobs, still falling short 1.7 million jobs of their pre-December 2007 levels.
At first glance, it may appear that women are doing better than men. Men lost 3.4 million more jobs in the Great Recession and its aftermath than women—employment among men dropped 8.7% while women only saw a 4.0% drop in employment. By mid-2009, men had lost so many jobs that women’s payroll employment was 50% of the work force for the first time in history. In the recovery, men reversed the trend and gained more jobs than women (4.4 compared to 2.9) but, women still have a smaller jobs gap, 3.6 million compared to 4.4 million for men.
So what’s really going on here? To understand the gender dynamics of employment, it’s crucial to look at the gender breakdowns within industries. The table (an updated version of Table 5.8 from the State of Working America) below shows the distribution of male and female workers across industries and the relative change in male and female employment within their industries since 2007. The industries that have taken the biggest employment hits since 2007—construction and manufacturing, which dropped 22.3% and 12.9%, respectively—also have a disproportionately larger share of male workers than in other industries. Industries that have a larger share of female workers, such as health care and social assistance government, fared considerably better: health care and social assistance employment increased 11.5 percent since December 2007. One story of the Great Recession shows that women fared better than men, as they were disproportionately employed in industries that sustained less dramatic employment drops during Great Recession than industries that were male dominated.
Industry distribution and job loss, by gender, 2007–2013
Note: Industry distribution shares may not total to 100 percent due to rounding
Source: Authors' analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics public data series
Within industries however, the story is different: look at the percentage point difference in employment growth between women and men in manufacturing, for example, and you’ll see that female employment has dropped 18.2% since 2007 while male employment has fallen by much less—10.8%. Conversely, in health care and social assistance both men and women saw gains in employment since 2007, but growth in male employment surpassed growth in female employment by 5 percentage points. In 9 of the 16 major industries (and 5 of the 7 largest industries), men have either regained a larger share of their 2007 employment in than women have, or have lost less since the Great Recession began. While the jobs gap for men is larger than it is for women, men are nevertheless seeing stronger gains than women within most industries.