Around 2009, the Great Recession was being termed the “Man-cession” or the “He-cession” by many who were concerned over the rising number of unemployed males compared to females, especially due to losses in such male-dominated fields as construction and manufacturing. Still others were insisting the numbers painted a much more complicated picture – one in which African American and Hispanic males, young females, and single mothers bear the brunt of hard economic times. In January 2013, female unemployment officially surpassed male unemployment, and for the first time since the recession began, many are worried the gender gap is actually rising. It’s particularly troublesome in the UK, where 2 out of 3 private sector jobs go to men. Even as the economy starts to recover, it’s becoming tougher for females to get by. What’s at the root of this shift?
The Widening Gender Gap
In the 1980s, the difference between men and women’s salaries got nearly ten percent smaller. In the 1990s? Four percent. But since the year 2000, the gender gap has only gotten one percent smaller, and in 2012, it actually widened. Women made only 80.9 percent of what men make, and male salaries actually rose while women’s declined, leading to a difference of around $163 a week between the genders. This is largely attributed to a huge loss in public sector jobs, which are dominated by the mostly highly-educated women. In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron has slashed nearly 1 million of these jobs in favor of creating private sector jobs, most of which go to men. In the U.S., the New York Times reports that 45,000 public jobs have been lost in the three months since the start of the federal sequester.
Legislation on Gender Equality
President Obama has tried to enact legislation to close the gender gap since 2009, signing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, which makes it easier for women to sue employers for wage discrimination. He attempted to introduce the Paycheck Fairness Act twice, once in 2010 and 2011. The law would have expanded on the U.S. Equal Pay Act of the 1960s and made it harder for employers to avoid paying men and women equal wages for equal work. However, Republicans in the Senate rejected the bill, and the Department of Labor tried to argue that the disparity between wages was not the result of discrimination. In the UK, the Equality Act of 2010 helped simplify and strengthen their own Equal Pay Act, as well as give protection to pregnant women and transsexuals. But they’ve also been affected by the European Union Equality Laws, which are not always the most productive. Among the most controversial was the December 2012 provision that eliminated gender considerations for insurance. The fact that women live longer and healthier lives can no longer be considered in premium prices, nor can car insurance prices be based on their statistically safer driving.
The Future of Equality
While political leaders claim that gender equality is essential to the future, many are also calling for a debate as to what equality truly means. The push for more affordable and accessible childcare for working adults undoubtedly favors a woman’s ability to be equal in the workforce. Is greater maternity leave promoting equality, or is it in society’s best interest to make sure women can have it all? Is it fair to disregard the more favorable qualities of women in insurance prices while continuing to pay them lower wages? The U.S. Department of Labor claims that inequality in the workforce is due to a number of factors, including individual choices a woman makes. It’s true that women are less likely to be in the workforce than men even though they are more likely to hold higher education degrees. Some experts think this can be solved with more equality in parenting, but others think the problem is not limited to parenting at all.
So what’s to blame for gender equality in the 21st century? The lack of public sector jobs, difficulty in passing the right laws or muddled effectiveness of the laws that are passed, and the fact that women find it harder to enter the workforce – if they have the need or desire to. The slow in progress for closing the gender gap might have been inevitable because women’s wages were so low in the 1970s, but if it continues at the current rate, it will take 45 years for women to make the same as men. Not only that, the recession seems to be taking its toll on women of all kinds of classes and careers, even after the recovery has officially begun.
Amy Thomson is a blogger for www.monkey.co.uk , a leading UK insurance comparison site helping you save money on your policies. Follow her on Twitter @VroomVroomAmy.