After the financial crisis, it looked like men were toast, at least in the job market. Between December of 2007 and June of 2009, 70 percent of the jobs lost in this country were lost by men. No wonder, given that the recession disproportionately hit areas like finance, manufacturing and construction – areas that employ many more men than women. I was one of the many who wrote pieces noting that the “New Normal” would be an economy that favored women.
Was I wrong? Recent stats would make it seem so – in ten out of the most recent 12 months of job gain, growth in jobs for men outpaced those for women. Men gained over a million jobs last year, while women gained only 149,000. As a recent Slate piece summed it up, “women are now the economy’s big losers,” especially given the current downturn in the public sector, made up largely of women.
But as compelling as these figures are, I think it’s much too early to declare a crisis in female employment. Here’s why:
The recent job statistics reflect a correction to an overcutting of jobs in a very specific number of fields. Take manufacturing – yes, the weak dollar and rising labor prices in China have made the U.S. a more attractive place for factory jobs, at least in the short term, as Stephen Gandel wrote on Monday. Yet the jury is very much out on whether America can or even should continue to bolster its manufacturing sector. As Fareed Zakaria will argue in a magazine piece for TIME later this week, manufacturing matters, but higher growth industries like entertainment, health care, and tourism (all of which employ large numbers of women) are just as important, if not more so, to future job growth.
Beyond this, the macro-economic trend lines throughout the world simply support more female employment. In many countries, including the U.S. and a number of emerging markets, women are better educated than men, and hold more college degrees. They start businesses at a faster rate, and given that new business creates the majority of jobs in this country, female employers are in a good position to hire other women. Already, younger women are closing the wage gap and entering leadership roles that will further shift the employment dynamic. As I wrote in my Curious Capitalist magazine column last week, in some major urban areas, young college-educated women are actually ahead of their male peers in pay. “If you walk down the streets of Manhattan, London or Stockholm,” says Boston Consulting Group (BCG) senior partner Michael Silverstein, “and you ask 100 single men and women between the ages of 25 and 30 what they make, the women will make more.” He believes this is the beginning of a generational shift that will snowball as older women retire and younger women, who started out with equal education and more pay and employment parity, rise through the ranks.
Indeed, BCG estimates that women will earn the majority—some $5 trillion-—of the world’s new income over the next five years. No wonder banks like Goldman Sachs are starting to rate industries according to how much of the female dollar they are poised to capture. Merrill Lynch recently went “long on women” and companies targeting female consumers, noting that it expected women to “increasingly become the -higher-income earners of U.S. households.” In my view, that’s the most important reason that you’ll ultimately see female employment rebound. The growth industries are those that cater to women. And you can bet that the people who run those companies are going to want to hire plenty of female employees who understand those markets, and those consumers.