The Male-Female Unemployment Gap

One interesting side effect of recessions since the 1980s has been the demographic breakdown in unemployment rates.  Yes – recently, unemployment discriminates against men.  While recessions in the 60s and 70s saw female unemployment rates increase faster than male rates, the current recession saw age 20+ male unemployment peak at 10.7% (in October 2009, SA) while the female 20+ rate peaked at 8.3% (in November 2009, SA).

And today?  In November 2011, 20+ year old males had a 8.3% unemployment rate while females had an 7.8% rate. Choosing the 20+ bracket eliminates some of the problems with the teen unemployment rate.

(Data from St. Louis Fed)

Is the gap persistent?  Probably not, at least during the good times – but what is causing the spread during every recession?

Here’s one for you – do you think it has anything to do with the fact that females are better educated than males in aggregate?  Note that in 2010 the ratio of females to males in college was 1.4 to 1 in the United States. Coincidence? Tell me what you think in the comments!


  1. says

    wow I had no idea about that. It’s good to know though–I think it definitely has to do perhaps with women being more educated but also because a lot of the harder hit areas happen to be more male dominated fields such as construction (ie, construction workers but also architects).

    • says

      Yeah – and the gap has been contracting lately (only .5 percentage points now)… so whatever was causing the gap has reduced, somewhat. It makes sense that it would be ‘male dominated jobs’ but not necessarily ‘males’ since both female and male unemployment did spike.

  2. Andy Hough says

    It probably is a combination of less education and male-dominated field being harder hit by unemployment.  A lot of those jobs probably won’t come back so I wouldn’t be surprised if the trend lasts even after the economy comes back.

    • says

      Well, it’s come back to earth somewhat – .5 percentage point was the most recent gap, from over 2 percentage points. I’m not sure what ‘equilibrium’ looks like. Sometimes it’s quoted as around 5%, but that would factor in teens… so it’s all a guess to me, heh.

  3. says

    I wonder if there might be something more malicious going on. Comments are a great place for wild theories. Here’s mine:

    Do you think it may have to do with the gender/pay scale ratio? As companies count pennies, I think there may be a feeling that women can be hired for less money. 

    Hopefully not true, but it’s the unsupported-with-data thought that sprang to mind as I read your piece.

    • says

      And why not? We’ve got to tease it out.

      The so-called male-female pay gap is often quoted in the high 70 cents to every dollar on the male side, but normalized for profession it is around 97 cents (I’ve heard estimates from a 3 – 8 cent pay gap that can be rationalized away). For the single unmarried, mid thirties plus crowd? Women out-earn men… although that it somewhat of a rare crowd!

      Back to that 70+ cent number. Perhaps the industries that these women work in are economized better? Even though you called your theory ‘wild’, it likely has an element of truth in it…

  4. says

    Education could one contributing factor but I’m sure industry and some others are too too.  But the people I know who have been unemployed over the last few years have all been male so there seems to be truth in the numbers. -Sydney

    • says

      Anecdotally, I agree with you… maybe it’s a Bay Area thing? My male friend have found it harder than my female friends.

      Although, my go-to quote is, “the plural of anecdote is not data” <- and that from an Engineer who will declare a bug fixed after two tests. Silly me…

  5. says

    It could be that females are attending and graduating college in higher numbers. 

    Or, It could be that companies are trying to get righteous with EEOC guidelines, and subconsciously target more females, skewing new-hire numbers.

    Or it could be that young qualified females are opting for lesser-skilled admin or support jobs, just to secure a second household income.  I personally know of two people  in this situation.

    Or, we could go for wild-eyed theories not over-burdened by facts.  I like that.  I blame the fluoride in municipal drinking water.

    • says

      Actually on this one I totally agree with 101 Centavos. :-) His comment made me smile. A lot. On a serious note – I do also know people who settle for a lesser paying jobs just to have a job and a pay check coming in. It is tough times now.

      • says

        Made you smile because you have perfect teeth from the fluoride?

        So, here in the Bay, San Jose just announced the decision to add fluoride to the drinking water – being the 10th largest city in the nation by population, it was the largest without the additive. Let’s see what happens!

    • says

      The first one does seem realistic, in that females in some professions are pretty rare. I know that it is male heavy in my industry (I’m an engineer, give me a break!).

      On the second, perhaps that is true as well – and the unemployment rate would show some of that in the U-6 U-3 gap (offhand I don’t know if there is a female/male U-3… might have to dig later) – women who wanted more demanding work but were forced into PT work, for example.

      Your third? That’s got to be the one! It’s a communist plot to make our employment look worse than it is. Also, if fluoride is so good, why did I get a cavity in a permanent tooth? I’m still mad about this one!

  6. says

    Females are smarter and more adaptable. While the males are stuck in the 20th century jobs, females have moved ahead and will take over the world soon. (or maybe they already had?)

    • says

      You know when you go to a party and introduce your wife to someone? I’ve found that later women will know things from that initial conversation (oh, person #1 and #4 were fighting) that I couldn’t pick up on. Can’t argue with that point.

      Plus my wife, mother-in-law, and mother all read this site. I have to be careful what I say!

  7. says

    Hmmm…I guess I might have to take back a post I made earlier this year (and comments recently elsewhere) about how a man must always pay for the first date no matter what!

    • says

      Especially with females earning more degrees than males (and that gap will remain as well – there are more females in college in many countries).

  8. says

    Thought provoking post!  You might be on to something here.  I wonder if it is also tied to salary.  Men historically are paid better than women.  Perhaps businesses are now more diligent by selecting more educated workers for lesser pay?  Unfair, but if this trend continues, perhaps the salary gap will shrink over time as well.

    • says

      I do think the male-female pay gap is a bit overstated (I said in one of the other comments the true gap is 3 to 8 cents once you normalize for profession and experience) but I’m sure you’re onto something. Another point is that wages are very sticky – if there is a persistent pay gap of 3 to 8 cents, since times are lean it’s possible that women are more likely to take the lower pay. In my mind, it’s a smaller factor than gender industry choice, but I bet it’s a factor.

  9. says

    Education is a factor, as I am sure the industry factors are as well. One really interesting fact I read a while ago was the actual percentage of people employed in the US as a % of the whole population. The 8% rate or whatever it happens to be is the rate of unemployment for those people seeking work. But the percentage of all US adults who were employed full-time was around 45% in 2010 (I read it in USA today, does anyone consider that reliable?) But isn’t that fascinating? So less than 1 in 2 adults in this country works? 

    • says

      I’m glad you mentioned it! Here’s a post I did with the numbers through December 1st… right aorund 58%. If you ask me, that’s more concerning than the unemployment rate itself. If the labor market has fundamentally shifted? There’s going to be consequences!