How Women Are Best Positioned For The Economic Recovery


Jun 27, 2013

Written by Mary Buffett

We now live in a time where women are better prepared for the coming economic recovery than men.

It all boils down to educational achievement. The Department of Education reported in 2012 that women earned 61.7% of Associate Degrees, 56.9% of all Bachelor’s Degrees, 59.6% of Masters Degrees and 52.1% of all doctorate level degrees. Only two generations earlier, women were not taken seriously in higher academia because college was seen as a pipeline to a husband and a family.

Since the early 1980s, women earned more degrees than men, but the higher paying positions were still skewed toward industries that favored men. However, The Great Recession decimated male-dominated jobs within manufacturing and construction. We find ourselves, as a society, at one of the greatest pivot points in our nation’s history. The jobs of the future — those high-paying jobs that on balance will drive families into the middle class and beyond — will favor women.

We’ve certainly come a long way, baby. In the 1970s and early 1980s, women knew that in order to build their careers, they had to prepare longer and harder to enter into these career spaces; it often meant longer time at school. Somewhere in the early 1980s, women began to outpace men in certain degrees. Within a few years time, women began to outpace their male counterparts in class space in undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs. Soon, these trends became established and women left men in the dust.

One should really call The Great Recession “The Great Mancession,” because jobs in male-dominated industries simply came to full-stop. Out of the 8.2 million jobs lost during The Great Recession, nearly 20% of them (1.89 million) came from construction industry. Durable Goods job losses (1.6 million) and Professional and Business Services (1.49 million) were a close second and third. “The fall in men’s employment is about 2.5 times that of women’s,” remarked Howard J. Wall, with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. However, while there were job losses across the board, education and healthcare rose by 500,000. By 2020, there will be 4.8 million additional high-paying jobs in healthcare.

It may take a generation for some of these male-dominated jobs to return to their pre-2007 levels. In the meantime, bills have got to be paid and somebody has got to put food on the table. As we pull out of this difficult time, women have found themselves better-positioned to take advantage of this new economy. The problem is that males within those fields may not have the transferrable skills and may be left behind.

It is hard to believe that only two generations earlier, what we see on AMC’s “Mad Men” reflected the realities of the time. Women worked in subservient and supportive roles. We could not get credit on our own and often had to have the signature of our husbands (or another male) to purchase property or sign loan documents. We saw big improvements in everything from equal access to no-fault divorce, all brought on by the Women’s Movement.

In the last couple of years, pieces like “The End of Men” by Hanna Rosin, her 2010 cover story in The Atlantic, have reignited the debate on gender, work-life balance and ‘having it all.’ Soon, the crux of Rosin’s article became a much-downloaded TED conversation and, later, a well-regarded book of the same name.

Rosin believes that the family structure was always matriarchal, but the power of women would stop at the front door. Men drove the “daddy decisions,” while women focused on the family. Now that more women outearn their spouses, shifts in gender roles and decision-making inevitably will follow the paycheck.

More importantly, as conventional wisdom is flipped on its head, changes in economic power transformed family decision-making. It’s no longer about what car will be purchased or what neighborhood will we call home. It will be about driving the big decisions. As more women move into the role of prime breadwinner within a two-parent household, women will drive more of the strategic family decisions like, “Who will follow who when it comes to the next job transfer?”

As we move into the next decade, it means our society will have a wholesale reevaluation how gender roles drive family, children and employment decisions in the workforce. If present trends continue, something truly glorious will emerge — female executives and senior management will no longer be seen as unique and rare. Best of all, equal pay for equal work will not only be the law of the land, but an immutable fact of life.

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