People@Work: The Great Recession Is Worse for Men

No one group of workers has been spared job cuts during this recession, the deepest in recent memory. Numbers show, however, that men have borne the brunt of layoffs, in turn boosting the percentage of women in the workforce. Having made steady gains in employment since the 1970s, women now stand to overtake men as the majority of the labor pool.Of course, the recession isn't only to blame for the greater number of jobs lost by men. Structural changes in the economy, decades in the making, have boosted the kinds of jobs held mostly by women, says management professor Fred Foulkes, director of Boston University's Human Resources Policy Institute.

Further, Foulkes says, a greater number of college graduates today are women. Given such factors, he says, "I think you will see the majority of the workforce will be women."

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

For women, reaching this workforce dominance would be a bittersweet accomplishment because it's the result of job losses among men. Male-dominated industries, such as construction and manufacturing, were among those hardest hit in the economic downturn. A look at some numbers reveals how acute the pain is.

Since the beginning of the recession in December 2007, 1.6 million construction jobs have been lost, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported earlier this month. Men hold all but 13% of those jobs, according to October data compiled by the Marist College Bureau of Economic Research. The body count is even greater in manufacturing, which has shed 2.1 million jobs during the recession. Men hold 72% of jobs in that sector.

Given those numbers, it's not difficult to understand why men have lost ground in employment. And though recessions typically take a heavy toll on manufacturing, the retrenchment that began amid the last recession in 2001 didn't stop after the economy recovered, says Christy Caridi, professor of economics at Marist. "Employment in the manufacturing sector, which is dominated by males, is basically under attack."

Some Bright Spots

Construction may present a different situation. Lost jobs there are due mostly to the mortgage meltdown. That was a fluke, Caridi says. "It just happened to be the case that men dominated this particular industry that got caught up in the credit crisis."

But it's not all doom and gloom for men. Caridi says as the economy rebounds, there's no reason to believe the percentage of men in the labor force won't begin to edge up, albeit very slowly. Analysts don't expect substantial recovery in jobs for several years.

There's also another bright spot for men -- at least for those married to working women, according to a report released earlier this month from the Pew Research Center. Researchers found that median household income rose 60% from 1970 to 2007 for married men, married women and unmarried women, but only 16% for unmarried men. In other words, the report noted, "the economic gains associated with marriage have been greater for men than for women."
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