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Is the Economic Recovery Gender Biased?

Fri, 11/09/2012 - 4:26pm | by Guest Contributor


Let’s just start by making it perfectly clear that the recession isn’t over, regardless of what the government keeps trying to tell us.  Although some companies are hiring, others are still enacting layoffs, so while we may be clawing our way back from a job deficit, it’s not quite a wash just yet.  But it seems that there is a disparity in the number of men and women returning to the workforce, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).  Based on their analysis of data provided by the Bureau of Labor statistics they have concluded that job recovery seems to be biased in favor of men, with approximately 32% of lost jobs going back to men while only 20% are going to female hires.  This begs the question: has the recession turned back the clock on women’s lib?

Unfortunately, the answer is not a simple yes or no.  The statistics cited by the IWPR tell only one story: that more men than women are reentering the workforce after layoffs.  But it bears consideration that more men were also laid off.  You might have heard something about a “mancession” wherein a significantly higher percentage of male workers suffered layoffs throughout the course of the recession.  So it seems only natural that a higher percentage should be getting these jobs back.  Well, hold on a second.  Just because men held particular positions before doesn’t mean that they are the most qualified candidates to get those jobs back.  The long and short of it is that this is a straw man kind of argument, mainly because there’s just no telling exactly why more men are getting hired than women right now.

In truth, there are several possible explanations, only one of which is that gender bias is to blame.  For one thing, it must be considered that women continue to drop out of the workforce in droves.  Just last month an estimated 300,000 female employees left their jobs; and this trend is nothing new.  The numbers of females in the workforce has been in slow decline for nearly twenty years now, and the majority of that time has not been spent in a recession economy.  So the lack of women returning to work after a layoff could be nothing more than a continuation of this trend.  But what are the reasons behind it?

The most obvious is familial.  While more women are earning degrees and starting careers than ever before, many are also choosing, at some point, to give up the working world in favor of a family.  Whereas a couple of decades ago there was a lot of hype about women who wanted to do it all, many women these days have come to the conclusion that they would rather devote their time and effort to raising their kids rather than dropping them off at daycare.  And this brings up another problem.  Women that are providing a secondary income for the household often find themselves working just to pay for the astronomical cost of childcare, so it may make more financial sense for them to stay home (or even find work-from-home jobs to supplement the household budget).

And then there is that fact that certain occupational fields in which women tend to have larger numbers (such as state and local government, for example) have suffered greater job losses during the recession.  In any case, it’s a bit of a stretch to assume that gender bias is to blame for fewer women being hired.  There could be a number of reasons for this trend and only time will tell if it continues or if the disparity evens out.

Breana Orland is a contributing writer for Red Rock Consulting, the premier IT recruitment Bristol agency.

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