Four Charts Show the Gendered Labor Market

Catherine Rampell recently noted that all the net job growth in December was accounted for by women’s employment while men gained zero net jobs. Month-to-month numbers can get noisy, and you shouldn’t attribute too much significance to net zero as a threshold, but it is true that the labor market in the United States is highly gendered. It’s not just a question of various disparities that arise inside particular firms—there are systematic sectoral gaps between what jobs women hold and what jobs men hold. So an economic trend that’s bad for construction workers lands very heavily on men, whereas one that’s bad for teachers lands very heavily on women.

Taking the long view, we can see that American women have regained the employment level they were at before the recession:

Men, by contrast, have not. The much-hyped “manufacturing rennaissance” is a bit of a myth, and to the extent that it’s happened, it hasn’t made up for construction job losses. There’s a very real male-dominated boom in natural resource extraction jobs, but that sector just doesn’t employ that many people.

Break it down by age and you can see more nuance. Among older people, both men and women have increased their employment level substantially:

This is a mix of people who might have retired early staying on the job because their 401(k)s have been devastated and people who might have been forced out of working life being able to stay on the job thanks to better health. Traditional gender norms are strongest among the oldest cohort, and you see the traditional gendered business cycle most strongly here. During the recession, men lose their jobs in factories and on construction sites, while women work in schools and hospitals that don’t care about the business cycle. It takes men a while to find new jobs (perhaps lower-paying jobs in less-esteemed economic sectors), but they do it and maintain a substantial employment gap with women.

Young people look quite different:

Younger women were hit by the recession but have also more than recovered their losses. Young men’s employment level is way down from where it once was. Optimistically one might hope this represents a surge in young men enrolling in college and learning useful things, but to the best of my knowledge the gender gap in college attendance and graduation continues to favor women.

And then you have the prime-aged workers:

Here men and women suffer a lesser recession and neither gender has really recovered. All told, it’s very much an End of Men scenario—with the particularly striking fact being that you see the end of men more strongly in the younger cohorts. The population of people over the age of 55 is both large and growing, so the experience of older people carries a lot of weight in national aggregates. But the younger you look the more you see men’s disemployment as a theme. For younger workers we really are slouching toward gender equity—we’re just doing it more by men becoming worse off than by women becoming better off.