Rosie the Riveter redux: Women on track to dominate the job market

For most of the last century, the idea of a female-dominated or even gender-balanced workforce would have seemed almost laughable. Even with a torrent of Rosie the Riveters and Mary Tyler Moores finding their place in the workforce, "breadwinners" were still a male-dominated group. However, with job demographics shifting and the recession devastating traditionally male industries, it seems like we may well be approaching a world in which a family's primary wage-earner is just as likely to be female.

Much of the shift between men and women in the job market is an outgrowth of the transition between jobs traditionally held by men and those that have been dominated by women. 20 percent of the jobs that have disappeared over the past year were in construction, a male-dominated profession. Similarly, manufacturing and finance, both male-dominated industries, took big hits. All told, in fact, 74 percent of the job losses since the end of 2007 have fallen on the heads of men, or at least male-dominated industries.
At the same time, female-dominated fields like education and health services have experienced a 12 percent increase, leading to a current situation in which 49.83 percent of the nation's jobs are held by women. While this isn't quite half of the job market, it seems likely that female employment is on track to meet, and perhaps surpass, male employment in the near future.

Quite apart from the basic gender split underlying this story, the movement from male to female workers points to several significant changes in the face of American business. For example, the jump in the health services industry suggests the massive impact of the millions of aging baby boomers who are starting to require additional care. Similarly, increases in education and government jobs may represent an early impact of the government stimulus.

For that matter, it is worth noting that federal guidelines and local laws -- like New York City's law 129 -- are designed to promote female and minority-owned businesses. While these may have a negligible impact on the overall employment demographics, they suggest an ongoing commitment to encouraging racial and gender-based equality in the job market.

Although the employment numbers have shifted, the pay numbers have remained consistent. Since 2006, female workers have made approximately 23 percent less than male workers; this is still the case. While there are numerous reasons for this pay differential, one significant factor could lie in the fact that many female-dominated professions, like education and nursing, pay less than many male-dominated professions.

In this context, it seems like the shift from male-dominated to female-dominated jobs is part of a significant shift toward a lower-earning workforce. If this is the case, then the apparent growth of the female workforce may be bad news for everybody.
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