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It’s not a ‘mancession’

There was a lot of talk at one point of the impacts of recession hitting men worse than women. Well, Cameron’s austerity budgeting has reversed that particular problem.

The latest figure indicates an increase in female unemployment of 30 per cent between October and December of last year, the biggest quarterly rise since the beginning of the recession. What that represents is 24,000 more women now looking for work. When compared with a decrease in male unemployment of 8000 claims of a ‘mancession’ can authoritatively be refuted!

As predicted last year by researchers associated with the Women in Scotland Economy (WiSE) Research Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University women are are now amongst the hardest hit as a result of this recession. At it’s not simply a matter of job losses. The story in todays Scotsman refers to a service sector downturn and women ‘choosing’ to do low skilled, and hence low paid, work. At the beginning of the recession, men lost their jobs at a faster rate than women, which can be explained by looking at patterns of occupational segregation in the Scottish labour market. Men tend to be clustered into jobs in sectors that are often more sensitive to the vagaries of the business cycle like construction and manufacturing. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to work in the public sector, particularly in the care sector and in education. The public sector in Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, is currently shedding labour due to cuts in public spending under the auspices of ‘austerity’. Job losses in the public sector, as well as in retail and other female dominated service occupations, can explain the fact that women are now ‘bearing the brunt’ of the recession and recovery measures.  Furthermore, for women, rates of economic inactivity (not currently in a job and not seeking work) have increased by 11,000 compared to a decrease in male inactivity of 3,000. This indicates that over a third of women that became unemployed in the last quarter of 2011 have become ‘economically inactive’. For women, economic inactivity is likely to mean full time unpaid household labour. A lack of accessible and affordable childcare, coupled with impending welfare reform, can help to explain this phenomenon.

Women, and men, are subject to gendered norms and expectations that influence their choices in the labour market – assumptions about men’s suitability for childcare for example – and the market systematically undervalues women’s jobs because of these stereotypes. These ‘structures of constraint’ inform choices and as a result define male and female patterns of participation in the labour market. Mainstream economic analysis, which is blind to gendered ‘structures of constraint’, fails to adequately account for the women’s position within the labour market and the wider economy. Applying such limiting analysis in understanding the patterns of job losses announced in recent days will subsequently result in partial explanations.  A feminist economic framework of analysis would provide a more accurate account of the causes, nature and consequences of gender based inequalities within the labour market and beyond, This would improve our understanding of the differential impacts of this recession and highlight the experiences of those likely to be hardest hit.

For more feminist economic commentary and analysis, follow the activities of WiSE Research Centre at

Ailsa McKay and Emily Thomson