Job Growth in the Great Recession Has Not Been Equal Between Men and Women

While many strides have been made in the women’s equality movement, job growth among women and men in the aftermath of the Great Recession is not one. The solid lines in the figure below show job loss during and after the Great Recession by gender. Men lost far more jobs than women did in the Great Recession—over 6.0 million jobs, or 8.5 percent of their total December 2007 employment, compared to women who lost 2.7 million jobs, or 3.5 percent. Since the economy started regaining jobs, however, the gender dynamic in job growth has reversed—between February 2010 and the June 2014, men gained 5.5 million while women gained 3.6 million jobs.

How did men both lose and then gain more jobs than women? A lot can be explained by the industries men and women were in at the time of the Great Recession—men were in industries that would sustain the most dramatic job loss while women were concentrated in industries with less job loss. The industries with the largest overall job losses—manufacturing and construction—also employed a very large share of men. Meanwhile, the industries that employed the greatest shares of women in 2007—health care and state and local government—were not as hard-hit. However, men have gained more jobs than women because they’ve had stronger job growth within almost every industry. Women experienced a smaller share of net gains between 2007 and 2014  in 10 out of the 16 major industries: manufacturing, whole sale trade, retail trade, professional and business and health care to name a few. (To see how men and women fared in each of the 16 major industries, see my blog post in which I update the distribution of workers across industry by gender during and after the Great Recession.)

The dotted lines in the figure show how employment of men and women would have evolved if, in December 2007, men and women had had the same industry distribution but if job changes by gender within each industry had evolved as they actually did between December 2007 and June 2014 (i.e. “controlling for industry”). Keeping the distribution the same for men and women shows that, all else equal, if men and women had had the same industry distribution going into the recession, job loss through the end of 2009 would have been very similar for men and women, but since then, men’s job gains would have strongly outpaced women’s. This simple exercise confirms that men’s worse job losses in the Great Recession can be entirely explained by the industries in which men were concentrated before the recession started (i.e., controlling for industry, men and women saw very similar job loss from December 2007 to December 2009). However, industry concentration does not explain all of it—men are seeing stronger job gains in the recovery even after controlling for industry. On Women’s Equality Day, we should be thinking how we can support women in and trying to enter the workforce. Policies that make it easier for women to stay in the work force include fair and flexible scheduling, paid sick leave and paid family leave, and increasing the minimum wage. Meanwhile, policies that that create jobs, such as large-scale public investment efforts, help both men and women have a fair shot. Taken together, women’s equality can also mean equality for all.

Much of the text and intellectual property of this post condensed from the “Jobs” chapter of the State of Working America, 12th Edition.