Employment statistics – a gender issue?

In a widely read Wall Street Journal blog post, Carrie Lukas, executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum, a radical right-wing US lobby group, argues there is no longer a wage gap between men and women.

She claims that the unemployment rate in the US is “consistently higher among men than among women”, rationalising this by the fact men are employed more in areas badly hit by the weak economy – areas such as trucking and construction – while women’s jobs are protected in areas such as teaching and healthcare.

In the UK, employment figures released this week show that the number of unemployed men fell by 31,000 to 1.45m, while the number of unemployed women rose by 14,000 to just more than a million. While the number of men claiming jobseekers’ allowance has fallen for 14 consecutive months, the number of female claimants has risen for nine months in a row.

One theory is that in the UK, most job losses are now in the public sector, which employs a disproportionate number of women. (The Office for National Statistics’ latest figures, for 2004, show that 65 per cent of public sector employees at the time were women, compared with 41 per cent of private sector staff.)

This is the opposite of Lukas’ argument that the public sector is a safe haven for jobs – and the women holding them.

In Wednesday’s FT, Brian Groom, business and employment editor, argued that the rise in female claimants “was caused by female claimants switching from lone parent income support because of benefit changes”. That does not explain the previous eight months’ increases, though.

Three years ago, Lord Alan Sugar, the millionaire entrepreneur, famously argued that the UK’s equality laws made employers less likely to hire a woman. He said: “That’s the bottom line, you’re not allowed to ask [women about their plans to have children], so it’s easy – just don’t employ them.”

Do these figures show that men are indeed “winning” the race for jobs or that more women are claiming benefits due to generally increasing pressures on family finances? What is your experience?

RSS News