In the last few days, there have been two well-publicised claims that women are likely to suffer relatively more in the gathering recession than men. The first claim was made by the TUC in a report documenting changes in women’s economic activity since the last recession and claiming that this made them more vulnerable to a downturn than in the past. The rate of redundancies and unemployment were apparently rising faster for women than for men.
The second came in this week’s Sunday Times, where it was reported that a group of ‘senior women ministers’ had taken fright at statistics showing that, in the last quarter, the number of women in full-time work had fallen by 53,000, while the number of men had only fallen by 36,000. The drift of both of these reports was that this was evidence of discrimination against women, and new measures were called for to protect women’s jobs.
A careful reading of the evidence, however, suggests that these claims are exaggerated and misleading. The TUC’s report has now been overtaken by January’s labour markets statistics release, which shows a much sharper rate of increase in redundancies for men. The rate for September-November was 11.5 per thousand, up from 6.8 per thousand in the previous quarter, while for women the increase was only from 4.7 to 6.1 per thousand.
As for the employment data, the Sunday Times ignored the fact that the changes were within the quoted limits of sampling variability. More tellingly, in the last quarter women’s part-time jobs had risen by 56,000, while men’s had fallen by 5,000. Thus total employment of men (including self employment) had fallen by 28,000 while women’s total employment had actually increased by 2,000 over the relevant period, a rather different picture.