Women Lag Behind Men in Economic Recovery

New numbers show that 90 percent of newly-created jobs go to men.

March 21, 2011, 12:08 PM

March 21, 2011— -- Women are lagging behind men in the nation's slow economic recovery, new government statistics show.

Of the 1.3 million jobs created in the last 12 months, some 90 percent have gone to men, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women have gained just 149,000 jobs.

There's no question that the recession hit men particularly hard, with jobs slashed from traditionally male-dominated sectors like manufacturing and construction. Men have still lost more net jobs than women have since the start of the recession in December 2007, with men losing a net 4.9 million jobs, while women have lost 2.5 million jobs.

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While you might expect men to recover more jobs since far more men were put out of work, there are some signs that things have gotten worse for women rather than better. Looking at the data since the end of the recession in July 2009, men have gained 600,000 jobs while women have lost 300,000 jobs.

"I think that the recession has happened in stages," said Myra Strober, a professor of education and economics at Stanford University. "The first stage hit manufacturing hard, and that's where men have more jobs than women do, and now the recession has moved to state and local government where women have a higher percentage of jobs."

While government spending has gone toward investments in infrastructure like roads, there have been cuts in public education and other public-sector service jobs. Women make up some 57 percent of the public workforce, but between July 2009 and Feb. 2011, they lost a far higher proportion of the jobs. Nearly 80 percent of the public-sector jobs cut during that period were held by women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As unemployed women look for work, experts also point to cultural biases that may hinder their search. While anti-discrimination laws prohibit the practice, some employers may believe that male workers will clock longer hours or be more dedicated to their jobs.

"Women undertake more of the family work than men do," said Frances Rosenbluth, a professor of international politics and deputy provost for the social sciences at Yale University. "Despite laws, people won't hire women for jobs that require long hours or travel."

American Families Depend on Female Earnings

An out-of-work man may also benefit from an employer's sympathetic assumption that he's his family's breadwinner, even though American families have come to depend on income from women far more than in decades past. Strober said that wives now contribute roughly 30 percent of a married couple's earnings, and nearly a quarter of children under 18 live in single-mother households.

"There's a lot of evidence that historically when jobs are scarce, employers favor men because they feel that it's up to men to earn a family wage and support their families," said Strober. "That is still true, but it's also true that women need to support their families."

At the high end of the employment pool, women may have been affected more by the recession than many realized. Female leaders at the most senior levels of companies were three times more likely to lose jobs than men during the recession, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit organization focusing on women and business.

Catalyst found that part of the reason for that disparity is that women's mentors were less senior than those of men, and when it comes time to lay off employees, that can be a disadvantage.

"A lot of those discussions happen behind closed doors. Your mentor is a person who, behind that door, is saying, 'No, we can't lose her,'" said Jan Combopiano, vice president and chief knowledge officer for Catalyst. "What you need is an advocate, a champion in your corner."

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