Urban Wire Men hit harder during the recession, but are recovering jobs faster than women
Erica Meade
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Who fared worse in terms of unemployment during the Great Recession—men or women? And who’s doing better in the recovery? The conclusions differ among researchers and politicians alike. So, who’s right?

Looking at the total 6 million jobs lost during the official recession period, December 2007 to June 2009, we find that 74 percent of those jobs were held by men, compared with 26 percent held by women. Men’s employment declined by roughly 6 percent while women’s employment decreased by 2.4 percent. So, it’s true that men were disproportionately affected by job loss during the Great Recession.

But unemployment peaked at different times for men and women. Men’s unemployment peaked at 11.2 percent in October 2009, when overall unemployment also peaked, roughly coinciding with the end of the recession. From the beginning of the recession to the peak unemployment level, men’s unemployment rate rose by 120 percent. Women’s unemployment peaked at 9 percent over a year later in November 2010 and represented an 84 percent increase from where it was at the start of the recession. Even though the rates peaked at different times, the conclusion is pretty much the same. When comparing unemployment rates, men were hit harder during the recession with both a higher level of unemployment and a larger percentage increase in the rate.


Unemployment Rate, by Gender, Dec 2007 - May 2012

Source: BLS Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey (CPS)

Now what about the recovery period? From its peak in October 2009 through May 2012, men’s unemployment fell by 2.8 percentage points, a 25 percent decline. At the same time, the total number of men employed grew by 2.5 million, a 3.4 percent increase. As of May 2012, women’s unemployment had fallen by 1.1 percentage points, a 12 percent decline from its peak in November 2010. An additional 1.3 million became employed, a 2 percent increase from the November 2010 employment level.


Employment, by Gender, Dec 2007 - May 2012

Source: BLS Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey (CPS)

Since reaching peak unemployment through May 2012, men and women have had steady increases in employment and decreases in their unemployment rates. But men appeared to bounce back earlier than women, with steadier positive employment growth and consistent declines in the unemployment rate. Women did appear to gain some employment traction beginning in December 2011 that has continued through the first half of 2012. As of May, women have experienced a net loss of 1 million jobs since the beginning of the recession, or 2 percent of jobs held in 2007. Men had a net loss of 2.9 million jobs over the same period, or 4 percent of jobs held in 2007.

A look at the employment-to-population ratios provides further insight into the labor market dynamics of each group because they take account of people who might have left the labor force because they thought no jobs were available. During the recession, men’s employment-to-population ratio fell from 69.4 to 64.6, a 7 percent decrease. For women, the ratio fell from 56.5 to 54.5, only a 4 percent change. Since the recession’s end, men’s employment-to-population ratio has roughly remained steady. Among women, the employment-to-population ratio dropped post-recession between June 2009 and November 2010 when women’s unemployment peaked; it has remained fairly steady since. Although people are no longer dropping out of the labor market in droves, both men and women are still well below their pre-recession employment-to-population levels.

Bottom line: several different measurements of labor market strength suggest that men fared worse in the recession, suffering greater job loss than women. But the numbers also indicate that men are recovering those jobs faster. We should use caution and not overstate the significance of these differences in the recovery. The industries in which the majority of women are employed are more “recession-proof” than those with higher concentrations of men; they didn’t shed as many jobs during the recession and therefore have much less ground to make up. Still, despite being overrepresented in the hardest hit industries, men appear to doing better in the recovery.


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Research Areas Wealth and financial well-being
Tags Asset and debts Employment and income data Unemployment and unemployment insurance