Women's work

By Megan McArdle

I've always thought that Linda Hirshman had a tenuous grasp on reality, but not this tenuous.  Dan Drezner catches her bolstering her call for gender equity in stimulus funds by claiming that women's unemployment is now rising just as fast as men's.  This is, how do you say it?  Not true.

There's a word to describe Hirschman's argument here.  I think the word is "wrong," since it's based on a faulty premise:

Men are losing jobs at far greater rates than women as the industries they dominate, such as manufacturing, construction, and investment services, are hardest hit by the downturn. Some 1.1 million fewer men are working in the United States than there were a year ago, according to the Labor Department. By contrast, 12,000 more women are working.

This gender gap is the product of both the nature of the current recession and the long-term shift in the US economy from making goods, traditionally the province of men, to providing services, in which women play much larger roles, economists said. For example, men account for 70 percent of workers in manufacturing, which shed more than 500,000 jobs over the past year. Healthcare, in which nearly 80 percent of the workers are women, added more than 400,000 jobs.

"As the recession broadens, the gap between men and women is going to close somewhat," said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. "But right now, the sectors that are really getting pounded are intensely male."

Click here for more background information on the data provided above. 

Now, maybe this is unfair -- maybe more women have entered the labor force, and therefore their unemployment rate has risen as fast as men. 

Nope, that's not it.  Monthly data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Hirschman's assumpton is a flat-out falsehood.  Immediately prior to the start of the recession (November 2007), the unemployment rate for men was 4.7%; the rate for women was 4.6%.  As of November 2008, the unemployment rate for men has increased to 7.2%, while the unemployment rate for women has only risen to 6%. 

So, to sum up:  there is no way to spin this data to support the assumption that drives Hirschman's op-ed.

Girls will be girls, I guess. 

Drezner asks for suggestions as to how Hirshmann could have gotten it so totally, bizarrely, utterly, I-know-why-don't-I-save-time-by-blow-drying-my-hair-in-the-shower? wrong.  If you figure it out, please do let me know.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2008/12/women-apos-s-work/4438/