Low Unemployment Is Opening Opportunities for Women—But Is It Temporary?

The current low unemployment rate, and resulting tight labor market, might be good for opening opportunities for women—and maybe not. Jed Kolko and Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times report that as our economy continues to recover from the great recession, “traditionally male industries have made a comeback.” During the two-year period of 2016 and 2017, employment in five male-dominated sectors (mining, construction, transportation, agriculture, and manufacturing) grew by 3.4 percent versus 2.5 percent in the mixed-gendered and female-dominated sectors. Of note is that the number of employed women economywide grew 2.9 percent versus 2.5 percent for men, and this growth for women was concentrated in male-dominated sectors that are at least two-third male. Kolko and Miller point out that in male-dominated industries and roles involving making and moving physical goods, women’s employment rose 6.9 percent versus 2.3 percent for men. Will this tight labor market permanently help break down gender barriers and open opportunities to higher paying jobs? Maybe yes and maybe no. The authors point out the following factors at play:

  • We have seen women hired into male-dominated industries before during wartime (for example, Rosie the Riveter) and other tight labor markets—only to be laid off when the labor pool relaxed.
  • While women are getting traditionally male jobs, the median earnings for women working full-time are 29 percent below men’s earnings for the same jobs.
  • Women still face more discrimination and harassment.
  • As women start working in a field in great numbers, average pay tends to decline.
  • Long-term job growth will not be in these male-dominated sectors. It will be in the female-dominated healthcare sector.
Time will tell whether this is a permanent or only temporary opening of opportunity for women. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash]]>