At least three advertising campaigns are currently using the song, “Here come the girls” (remixed by the Sugarbabes) in the UK. Besides being slightly confusing, it is a reminder that indeed, women are coming to the workplace. They have been since the 1960s, of course, but there have been recent markers that are worth noting.

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I recently discovered that almost every recession in the past four decades has had a bigger impact on men than on women. All around the world, men lose more jobs in recessions, and find less employment afterwards. This is just a part of a bigger trend of women dominating the workplace: America was the first country to have more women in the workplace than men (this happened in March 2010). Many countries will follow suit in the next few years. And the pay gap is closing steadily, too.

As the father of three daughters and the husband of one wife, this is good news for me. Of course, the job is far from finished. The future still looks rather bleak for women in executive positions. In the US, 50% of grads are women, 30% of managers and 10% of senior executives. The figures have hardly changed over the past few decades, and one recent prediction says it’s going to take 60 years for parity!

The article that brought all of this to my attention was in The Spectator last week. You can find it here, or read an extract below. You can also see additional information with graphs and data at the Spectator blog.

The death of the male working class
Matthew Lynn
The Spectator, 26 May 2010

This recession is a global ‘mancession’, says Matthew Lynn, with male-dominated industries collapsing and women getting a greater share of new jobs. But if work is turning into a female domain, what are we going to do with all the redundant men?

Remember the feminist slogans of the 1970s? Phrases such as ‘A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’ and ‘Adam and Even’ sounded comic at the time. Now, 40 years on, they seem less like the absurd hopes of the dungaree-clad sisterhood, and more like shrewd insights into the economic future. The once preposterous-sounding idea that women would outnumber men in the workplace is now a reality. It has just happened in America and, if current trends persist, it will happen in Britain in four years time.

Recessions tend to accelerate pre-existing economic trends, and this recession seems to be hastening the demise of the male working class. The jobs lost in the last two years have tended to be ones done by men, whereas the preponderance of new vacancies are in areas of the economy in which women do best.

Some American economists have already dubbed the current slump a ‘mancession’. The upturn, when it comes, is probably going to be a ‘fecovery’ with women taking a greater share of new jobs. More and more men might find themselves unemployable. That throws up lots of questions that society has hardly begun to consider. What is going to happen to a lot of redundant men? How might families cope with the stress of women becoming the main breadwinners? Can anything be done to make men more employable again?

A textbook of global economic history written a century from now may well mark February 2010 as a crucial point in the feminisation of the western world. When US employment data for that month was published, economists noticed that, for the first time, there were more women working in America than men — 64.2 million compared to 63.4 million, to be precise. That represents a huge demographic shift: in 1950, more than twice as many men had jobs as women.

The same socio-economic revolution is happening in Britain, although as usual we are a few years behind the Americans. Today, we have 15.3 million men at work, compared with 13.5 million women. That difference, 1.8 million, was 2.4 million just two years ago. If this trend continues, by 2013 there should be more women working than men.

According to an OECD study, the ‘mancession’ appears to have gone global. In the UK, there are six male redundancies for every five females ones. In Austria, the ratio is seven to five. In Denmark, nine men are laid off for every five women. In only one developed country, Korea, has the recession hurt woman as much as men. Why are women proving so resistant to the worldwide slump? One explanation is the nature of this recession, and the way we’ve chosen to respond to it. It’s a bit like the first world war, the heavy casualties in the trenches have been taken by men. For example, there has been a 9 per cent drop in construction jobs in Britain over the last year. Since most of the people in hard yellow hats are blokes, it is not surprising that men have suffered more than women. Manufacturing and financial services, both male-dominated, have also suffered.

But for those in Britain’s public sector, there has been no recession. The number of jobs in ‘education, healthcare and public administration’ has risen by 3 per cent. The Labour government’s policy of tackling the slump by vastly increasing state spending and expanding the public sector — where women have always been more prevalent — spared the gentler sex from much of the recessionary pain. Under Labour, the public sector expanded faster than that of any country in the world over the last decade. This could not help but have broader economic consequences.

But it is a mistake to think that when the good times return, the predominance of women in the workforce will subside. A study of the last 30 years of the British economy shows a striking trend. With each slump, there’s a ratchet effect. The women’s job market grows, but the guy jobs are lost forever. Male economic inactivity — which stood at just 8.5 per cent when Thatcher came to power — has doubled to 17.5 per cent.

The emasculation of the workforce has been spurred by fundamental changes in the structure of all developed economies. One factor has been the advance of women’s rights. Before the 1970s, women faced huge barriers in the workplace. Even if there weren’t formal restrictions, they had to overcome a range of invisible obstacles. Over the last four decades, those have been slowly dismantled. Discrimination is now illegal. Mothers have been given a range of statutory rights that make it easier to work and have a family. As women have become more established in the workplace, companies have become more female-friendly. It is not surprising that many more women have started working. It could even be sexist to imagine anything else happening. We are now living in an economy in which education and social skills are now favoured over muscle, no wonder the women are doing better: they do better than men on both counts.

Soon, it may be men complaining about the ‘gender pay gap’. It is closing fast: now down to 12 per cent in Britain and even less among part-time and younger workers. Among 16- to 17-year-old workers, girls not only outnumber boys, they take home 12 per cent more pay. Even today, the averages are skewed by a small, mostly male elite at the very top of the salary tree. Across the broad mass of working people, gender pay differences are fast disappearing.

The ‘mancession’ is really a blue-collar phenomenon. Well-educated middle-class guys are doing fine. In fact, with their well-educated middle-class wives going out to the office and Polish au pairs feeding the kids and cleaning the house, they are probably doing better than ever. It’s those lower down the ladder having the stuffing knocked out of them. Low-skilled women tend to get jobs as cleaners or call-centre workers. But when a factory or a building site shuts down, the low-skill male jobs go with them.

That has a huge impact on society. There is already evidence that families rely more on women’s wages than men’s. In the US, women are now the main breadwinner in more than a third of households. In households where both partners work, one in four wives now earns more than her husband. This country is surely not far behind. Today, 9 per cent of all those who declare themselves to be ‘looking after the house/family’ in Britain are men — a figure which has trebled since 1993.

Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a feminised economy. Socrates remarked that ‘once made equal to man, woman becomes his superior’. So we can hardly claim we didn’t have any warning. But what happens when the men are left behind? It’s not just in the workplace that men are lagging behind their womenfolk. Men are far more likely to go to jail: only 4,300 of the UK’s 83,900 inmates are women. We die younger. We have more health problems. We perform worse at school and at university. Of the 570,000 applicants to British universities this year, 57 per cent were women (similar to the US, where 59 per cent of college degrees are now awarded to women).

The ‘mancession’ is fast creating a generation of redundant men, living on benefits, too unattractive to form stable relationships and prone to alcoholism, drug-addiction and crime.

Yet the feminised economy of the future is not going to be easy for women. They may be more employable, but unless there is some grand renegotiation between the sexes, they’ll still need to have the babies and look after them. Men today may change more nappies than their fathers did. It’s a feminist fantasy, however, to imagine a society of working mums coming home to an immaculate house full of smiling children looked after by an unemployable father. Nothing the new coalition government does is likely to turn this around. Cutting the public sector will make some difference, but since the female-dominated health service is ring-fenced, it won’t be very significant. Indeed, the NHS is good example of how feminised the workplace has become. It is one of the largest employers on the planet, yet four out of five of its non-medical staff are female. This is a global trend, and nothing George Osborne is planning as Chancellor is going to change it.

The real problem is that men need work. It’s how they define themselves and find their place within their families and communities. One of the big questions governments may face over the next decade is how to provide men with a role in society. One option is to reshape economic policy so that it encourages manufacturing — as much as services and finance. Another is to refocus the government’s ‘skills’ agenda on male skills.

But it is entirely possible that the ‘mancession’ may kill off what remains of the male working class — and this may one day be seen as a social evil. After decades worrying about female issues, it might be time to ask who really is the weaker sex.

Source: The Spectator

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