The Declining Demand for Men
By NANCY FOLBRE
The Great Recession has sometimes been dubbed the Mancession because it drove unemployment among men higher than unemployment among women. Because men tend to work in more cyclical industries than women, they have historically lost more jobs on the downturn and gained more on the upturn.
The current upturn, however, is doing little to restore jobs, with November unemployment rates at 10.6 percent for men and 8.9 percent for women.
A long-term trend also lurks behind the cyclical pattern — a decline in the demand for the kinds of jobs that men typically fill.
For example, men constitute more than 71 percent of the work force in manufacturing but less than 25 percent of the workers in health and education services. As the chart above shows, these two employment categories were similar in size in 2000, but manufacturing employment has failed to rise, even in non-recession years. Employment in health and education, in contrast, has risen slowly, but steadily.
The decline of manufacturing employment helps explain why men’s labor force participation has declined in recent years, while women’s labor force participation has remained relatively constant, after increasing rapidly between 1970 and 1990. The decline in men’s labor force participation would be even greater if increased incarceration were taken into account.
The two occupations projected to grow most rapidly between now and 2018 — registered nurses and home health aides – are typically filled by women.
The driving forces behind the increased feminization of employment are obvious.
Increased foreign trade has hammered the manufacturing sector. Automation and information technology have reduced demand for many midlevel service jobs filled by men. Jobs in education and health services are harder than other jobs to outsource or to “offshore,” because they currently involve at least some in-person, face-to-face interaction.
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?
Maybe, but not overnight. We should address the mismatch between the supply of and demand for men from both sides.
Increased public investments in job training and education could help workers diversify their skills, and a green jobs program could increase the demand for both men and women who need jobs but can’t find them.
Misplaced confidence in market forces is making it virtually impossible for the unemployed to man up — or woman up.