Economics

The Man-cession Is Real and Historic

In the last week, there have been a number of news reports that could be classified as “man-cession denials.” Here are some examples:

St. Louis — A new St. Louis Fed research report released today debunks the popular notion that the current recession is predominantly a “man-cession”—a recession hurting American males proportionately more than women and other demographic groups.

Reuters — The novelty of the man-cession has been overstated. Delve deeper, and men have not been doing so badly by historic standards.

CNBC — Recessions are almost always man-cessions.

The data, certainly at least the male and female unemployment rates, suggest otherwise—the current “man-cession” is a very real and historically unprecedented labor market phenomenon.

mancession1

The chart above displays monthly jobless rates for men and women back to January 1980, and shows the peak male-female jobless rate gaps associated with the last four recessions (1981–1982, 1990–1991, 2001, and the most recent one). Compared to the peak 2.7 percent male-female jobless rate gap in August 2009 (10.9 percent male unemployment vs. 8.2 percent female), the peak male-female gaps during the previous three recessions averaging about 1 percent didn’t even come close. Maybe it’s true that all recent recessions have been “man-cessions” to a certain degree, but the male-female jobless rate gap this time is two to three times higher than during the other three post-1980 recessions.

Now the next chart tells a similar story about the significance and severity of the current “man-cession” by showing the difference between male and female unemployment rates back to the start of monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics data in 1948.

mancession2

The peak male-female jobless rate gaps described above of about 1 percent during the three previous recessions, and the 2.7 percent gap in August 2009 are displayed in red.  Consider that during almost the entire 1948-1982 period, the female unemployment rate was almost always greater than the male jobless rate, whether the economy was in recession or not, and the female jobless rate exceeded male unemployment by as much as 2.5 percent during a few months in the 1960s and the 1970s.  The chart also shows that the 2.7 percent male-female jobless rate gap in August sets a new monthly record for the highest male-female gap in BLS history, as well as an all-time record for the highest-ever gender jobless rate gap in either direction.

Taken together, these charts of the female and male jobless rates show the gradual shift over the last 60 years from a labor market where men once benefitted from consistently lower unemployment rates than women, during both economic expansions and recessions, to a labor market that now disproportionately and adversely affects men during recessions, especially the most recent one. The unprecedented 2.7 percent jobless rate gap between men and women that characterizes the current “man-cession” is truly historic, and cannot be dismissed as being “overstated” or a “novelty.”

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