Predominantly female occupations are projected to grow in the coming years—but the expansion won't create all that many jobs.
Both Liza Mundy (The Richer Sex) and Hanna Rosin (The End of Men) argue that the transition to a postindustrial, service- and knowledge-based economy—in conjunction with declining gender discrimination—are leading inevitably to women's economic dominance. I have critiqued those stories in a series of posts on my site Family Inequality.
But there is one piece of Mundy and Rosin's argument I haven't questioned until now. It is so intuitively appealing that I assumed it was true: The demands of the economy are shifting dramatically in women's favor. Brains have superseded brawn and social skills have become increasingly important, they both claim (and I accepted without thinking much about it) which all favors women over men.
Mundy and Rosin make frequent references to a set of projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), showing that the occupations with the largest expected growth are dominated by women rather than men. But that description is, it turns out, misleading.
First, here is how Mundy and Rosin use the BLS numbers. Mundy writes:
Projections made by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that women's occupations will be favored in the next decade. ... All in all, of the ten jobs with the largest projected job growth—nurses, home health aides, customer service reps, food preparation and serving workers, home care aides, retail sales, office clerks, accountants and auditors, nursing units, and postsecondary teachers—nine are majority female.
Rosin uses similar statistics, which have been repeated in reviews like this one in the Chicago Tribune, this one in the Globe and Mail, and blogs like this one at the World Bank. She writes (in a passage approvingly quoted by David Brooks):
The recession merely revealed—and accelerated—a profound economic shift that has been going on for at least 30 years, and in some respects even longer.... Of the fifteen job categories projected to grow the most in the United States over the next decade, twelve are occupied primarily by women.
Okay, here's the first moment I should have paused. Women are almost half the labor force. So if occupations are "majority female" or "dominated" by women, how different are they from average? Does this really mean the occupational structure really strongly shifting in women's favor?