The "mancession" is no feminist triumph

Men's sky-high unemployment rates don't mean women will take over the workforce

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published September 30, 2009 7:01PM (EDT)

We have been haunted by the specter of emasculated men staying at home while their wives bring home the bacon. As women's payroll employment threatens to overtake men's for the first time in history, many have declared the "mancession" a mortal blow to machismo and speculated that the financial crisis would pull off what feminist activism couldn't. But rumors of the demise of male dominance have been greatly exaggerated, says Casey B. Mulligan, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, in the New York Times.

It's true that women held 49.9 percent of American payroll jobs in July, but that doesn't tell us "whether the high unemployment rate for men comes just because men are more likely to be laid off, or if it's also because men are finding new jobs more slowly than women are," he explains. Luckily, new research sheds light on the matter.

Economists at the Federal Reserve analyzed data to determine the various factors influencing the "mancession." They found that the leading cause "is that so many more men than women lost their jobs and not that women find new jobs more quickly," Mulligan reports. On average, men and women spend roughly the same amount of time unemployed and are similarly successful at finding a new job. Don't forget, though: Far more men than women are looking for jobs. The threat of women's dominance in the workforce hinges "primarily on continued contraction in manufacturing and construction," he argues.

The take-away: "Once the male-intensive industries slow down their layoffs (even if those industries never actually expand again), more men than women will gradually find new positions -- remember that more men are searching -- and we will see women's share recede from the 50 percent mark again." As soon as it's back to business as usual it'll likely be ... back to sex roles as usual.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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