WASHINGTON -- Women are holding onto their jobs more than their male counterparts in the recession as the types of jobs women hold generally offer more stability, albeit at less pay.
In the year since the recession began in December 2007, the jobless rate for men rose from 4.4% to 7.2%. At the same time, the jobless rate for women rose from 4.3% to 5.9%.
Given that women are more likely to work now than in prior downturns, dual-income households may be on better footing to withstand this recession, says Donna Ginther, director of the Center for Economic and Business Analysis at the University of Kansas. Approximately 61% of women 20 and older were in the labor force in December, up from 37% 50 years ago. "It's a kind of built-in insurance. If you lose one of two incomes and you are losing the highest income, it hurts, but it's not as catastrophic as say, losing the only income in a household."
The government on Friday said the overall unemployment rate jumped to 7.2% in December, the highest in nearly 16 years. Firms cut a seasonally adjusted 524,000 workers in December. For all of 2008, firms cut 2.065 million jobs, the most since 1945.
The report showed a big gap between the job market for men and women. Behind the difference:
•The market for jobs typically held by women has been far better than those typically held by men.
Three-quarters of the workers in the health care and education sectors are women, according to economic consulting firm IHS Global Insight. Employers added 536,000 workers in those two fields in 2008, a 2.9% gain.
At the same time, men represent 93% of workers in construction and 72% in manufacturing. Employers cut 632,000 construction jobs in 2008, an 8.5% drop, while 791,000 manufacturing jobs were cut, a 5.7% decline.
Such a division is nothing new and has been seen in prior recessions, says Anne Winkler, economics professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
•Women are more likely to work part time than men, perhaps making them less vulnerable. Approximately 25% of women work part time vs. 12% of men, Mission Residential chief economist Richard Moody says.
"When employers are actively cutting hours for the workers they do keep, it could be that those already working part time have a bit more security … as they are not likely to be receiving benefits and in general, are likely to cost employers less than full-time workers," he says.