What Does The Higher Unemployment Rate Among Men Have To Do With Gender Roles?

What Does The Higher Unemployment Rate Among Men Have To Do With Gender Roles?

Mancession. Have you heard that one yet? Apparently, the powers that be have given some levity to the dire moniker “Great Recession,” and dubbed it a Mancession.

And it has nothing to do with dating woes—instead, the name is based on the fact that statistically, men are suffering greater job loss and unemployment rates than women, due to their historical employment in cyclical jobs and positions that can be more easily outsourced.

Divided Along Gender Lines—Again

Nancy Folbre of the New York Times Economix Blog reminds us that men are currently at about 10.6% unemployment to women’s 8.9%, and that it has less to with ability or employability than tradition. Manufacturing, the cited example of a great male employer, has been losing jobs for years, but the possibility of these unemployed manufacturing workers moving into growing professions such as health care and education is slim, because of—wait for it—societal gender roles. From the New York Times:

Why don’t men simply move into women’s jobs? Partly because employers, men and consumers are all strongly influenced by conventional gender roles.

As Maria B. Grusky and David Charles of Stanford document in their book “Occupational Ghettos,” gender segregation is a remarkably persistent and complex phenomenon shaped by deep cultural beliefs.

But surely economic factors play some role. Men seem to be more reluctant to enter women’s jobs – which typically pay less for the same credentials – than women to enter men’s jobs. Will prolonged high unemployment among men overcome their reluctance?

Look Forward Instead Of Back

What strikes us about the mechanics of the so-called Mancession isn’t the inherent sexism (typical) or the gender inequality (expected). Instead, it’s the fact that in an unprecedented time in America, among historical economic lows and record unemployment, we’re looking to history and tradition to determine our next moves.

Much like history isn’t an appropriate indicator of stock market patterns, it’s no longer a reliable point of reference when it comes to determining suitable jobs. Maybe it’s too obvious for us to point this out, but a job is a job. It’s an income, a livelihood, a step towards financial freedom. Can we embrace available opportunities on an even ground and create a new tradition, or is that asking too much?


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