Six years ago, the housing bubble imploded, igniting the recession. Construction and manufacturing soon crumbled, taking jobs mostly held by men down with them. Not long after, AEI’s Mark J. Perry referred to the “mancession” when testifying before Congress, and hand-wringing trend pieces, worrying that men would experience a permanent slump in employment and wages, began to appear.
The apotheosis of this genre, Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men,” appeared in The Atlantic in the summer of 2010, going one step further to suggest that an “unprecedented role reversal [was] now under way.” What if, Rosin asked, women are better suited to today’s economy? What if the mancession presages a new economy in which women’s skills and talents are prized over men’s, and men’s economic prospects never recover? (To see how this trope lives on, just watch the trailers for ABC’s now-defunct show Work It in which two out-of-work—male—mechanics resorted to dressing in drag to score jobs.)
Women make up almost half of the workforce today, up from about thirty percent in 1940. We hold over half of middle management jobs. More women than men are employed in growing industries like healthcare and retail sales. Shortly after Rosin’s article appeared, a study found that young, urban, childless women make more than similar men do.
But anyone who declares that women have “won” the new economy is premature at best. Women may be over-represented in growing sectors, but those jobs pay poorly, offer few benefits, come with grudging work and provide little opportunity for advancement. The edge on wages experienced by young women evaporates as they progress in their careers. When women do get to middle management, they’re paid less than men and they struggle to advance much further up the ladder. And women with children are left far behind.
So what happened to the “mancession” once the recovery officially began in June 2009? Women’s unemployment has continued to rise as men have gained their jobs back. Women gained less than 8 percent of the 1.9 million jobs added, and now men’s and women’s unemployment rates have converged at 7.7 percent. Public sector layoffs have hit women particularly hard. Across the country, women have lost 414,000 government jobs, many due to teacher layoffs. As of October, 300,000 educator jobs had been lost, accounting for over half of those lost at the local government level.
Women have been losing ground across private-sector industries too. Secretaries and administrative assistants, both female-dominated positions, have been laid off in droves. As employers ask their workers to do more work for the same or less pay in tough times, secretaries have become disposable. Women had lost 925,000 of these jobs as of July, but men had gained 204,000.