Women and recession: what did we say?
Our Women and Recession report has been widely reported. But unfortunately much of the reporting has been wrong. According to many sources we believe that women will face more job losses than men. This is absolutely not what our analysis shows. The point in publishing the report was to challenge the myth that women are not affected by recession, and to point out that with more women in work than ever before, more families dependent on women’s incomes and unemployment rising for everyone, more women will feel the effects of recession more than previously (although of course recessions have always affected women in work). We also wanted to take the chance to discuss what these effects would be, and show how women’s lower wages and greater childcare responsibilities would mean that their experiences of unemployment could be different to men’s.
The Mirror have interpreted our analysis as showing that two women are sacked for every man. And The Herald has reported that the redundancy rate for women is double that of men. In fact our analysis shows that the rate of women’s redundancy is lower than men’s. But from January – September 2008 the speed at which women’s redundancy rate increased was twice as fast as the speed at which men’s redundancy rate increased. This shows that women will be affected – but not that the effects will be greater for women than for men.
The Daily Record report that the recession will hit women hardest and that the retail trade are bearing the brunt of the job cuts. In fact our report claimed that as all sectors of the economy look likely to be affected (including manufacturing) retail and services may be hit more than in previous recessions (when these sectors remained relatively resilient), as well as noting that higher levels of public sector work and the likely longer term growth in the service sector would be protective factors for women’s jobs.
Some coverage is better. The Express report that women will be hit hard (but importantly and accurately, not hardest), as does Reuters (although their headline is misleading). The BBC concludes that the recession is hitting women ‘harder than ever before‘ which is also broadly correct.
It has also been suggested that as employment rates for women are not falling as fast as men’s there is no evidence that women will be affected more than the past. But again our key point is that more women will experience more effects from this recession than previous downturns (we are interested in a range of factors that affect working women as well as the overall female employment rates). Just to be clear the logic is as follows:
- There are more women at work. The female employment rate is around 70 per cent, while in the last recession is was around 67 per cent. Therefore there are more women who will feel the effect of the downturn. Particularly, there are more women in low-paid jobs – and for low-paid workers the effects of recession are worse.
- Women’s incomes are increasingly integral to overall family incomes – while women’s wages have always mattered they matter more now, for more families, than ever before.
- There are more lone-parent families than ever before, 90 per cent of whom are women. While these households will not all be completely dependent upon women’s wages for income, lone parent families may be more likely to rely more on women’s wages.
- Sectors across the economy are being hit – manufacturing, construction but also retail and services.
- Unemployment is rising for men and for women. This fact is further borne out by yesterday’s data, which show that the unemployment rate for working age men is 6.9 per cent, compared to a rate of 5.7 per cent for working age women. Both rates have increased since the start of the year (by 1.3 percentage points for men, and by 0.7 percentage points for women), and have also increased on the quarter.
- In the first three quarters of 2008 male and female redundancy rates showed sharp rises. Yesterday’s data show a greater rise for men than women, but women’s rate is still increasing fast.
- More women are part time workers (around 40 per cent of all women at work) and they will feel the effects of recession even if their jobs aren’t cut – overtime is often essential to women in these posts and is likely to be reduced during the downturn.
And importantly our report notes that it is too soon to tell the exact pattern that unemployment rates for women will take – we will need to keep looking at the trends over the next six months before we know exactly how badly women will be hit. In the end it may be that overall the rate at which women experience job loss is identical to previous downturns (although we think that the data so far show that it is likely to be greater) – but even if this is the case more women in total will be affected and more families will feel more impacts from women’s job losses.
Perhaps this has shown that complex and emerging trends are best kept out of press releases. But as a means of highlighting that women lose their jobs as well as men, that women’s jobs are important, that women feel particular affects of unemployment and that unions are concerned about working women, maybe we have succeeded.