Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Gender Degree Gap and The Great Mancession

The chart above shows the dramatic gender shift over time in college degrees (data here). In 1949, men earned 76% of all college degrees, i.e. men earned 317 degrees for every 100 degrees earned by women. By 1981, women earned 50% of all college degrees, and in almost year every since then have increased their share of all degrees to the current level of 58.61%, which is down slightly from the peak of 59.06% in 2007. The 60-year trend may now have stabilized at 59% of all college degrees earned by women and 41% earned by men, or 144 degrees earned by women for every 100 degrees earned by men.

The chart below shows the difference in the monthly male unemployment rate and female unemployment rate back to January 1948. For all months above the red zero line, the male jobless rate was higher than the female rate, and for all months below the red line, the female rate was higher than the male rate. For 249 consecutive months between December 1959 and August 1980, the female jobless rate was below the male jobless rate. In other words, for more than ten years, there was never a single month when the male jobless rate was higher than then female jobless rate, and that's quite a record.

During the last four recessions, the male unemployment rate has always exceeded the female jobless rate, but only by about 1% in the recessions of 1982, 1990-1991 and 2001, which is nothing compared to the historic 2.7% peak male-female jobless rate gap in August 2009 (11% for males vs. 8.3% for females).

For the 32-year period between 1948 and 1979, the average male-female jobless rate gap was -1.21% in favor of men (lower male unemployment rate compared to female unemployment), and for the 30-year period from 1980 to 2010, the average jobless rate has been 0.187% in favor of women (lower female unemployment rate compared to male).

Hypothesis: As college degrees have shifted gradually in favor of women over the last sixty years, and especially since 1981 as women got a disproportionately higher and higher share of all college degrees year-by-year, women have become both better-educated than men on average, and also better protected against unemployment, especially during recessions (see chart above of jobless rates by education). In other words, the Great Mancession of 2008-2009 was directly related to men's decreasing share of college degrees, and therefore greater exposure to unemployment, especially during the Great Recession.

Comments welcome.


At 3/17/2010 2:34 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Makes sense. Admittedly without sources, I posit that large employment losses in the past 3 years have happened in the construction, manufacturing and F.I.R.E. sectors, which one would think are disproportionately male.

The first two of those, at least, would be the traditional blue-collar jobs that don't require a college degree.

Ergo, jobs have been lost most in those sectors that employ men without college degrees.

Good or bad? Something that should be looked at closer with an eye towards policy that minimizes those differences? I have no idea. Probably neither, and no, respectively.

And to the extent it lessens FIRE employment as a percent of total employment, probably a good thing.

At 3/17/2010 2:53 PM, Blogger Highgamma said...

If the differential between wages of female and male college graduates is lower than that of female and male high school graduates, then there would be an economic incentive for more women to attend college, especially as college costs rise (both out-of-pocket and opportunity costs).

However, if part of that differential is due to greater risk of long periods of unemployment and this risk was not fully perceived by the men, we would expect to see more men start go to college (subject to "switching costs" like getting the right high school record together).

In the current economic environment, we'd especially expect to start to see this effect given that men's out of high school employment prospects are bleak.

If we don't see that bump up in men going to college, I suspect that some non-economic driver is at work. Does this make sense?

At 3/17/2010 3:12 PM, Anonymous Lyle said...

Also note that in the choice of majors women tend to more service jobs which are at least some what more recession resistant. For example as medicine becomes dominated by women (at the physician level where its now 50%+ in med school, and I suspect the trend will follow that in Vet Medicine where its 80%) those are recession resistant.
Note that this trend does show up at least in the UK and Canada also, so its something that is beyond just the US in cause.

At 3/17/2010 5:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny. Right before I saw this post I had just read an article entitled, "At 76, Steinem laments elusive equality for women"

What a joke!

At 3/17/2010 5:40 PM, Blogger sethstorm said...

Subtract the do-nothing(read: isn't a definite science or business) majors first. I'd suspect that may be skewing things a bit for those that are too easy to get.

At the worst, just kill the degree requirement in employment(and anything that would imply it).

At 3/17/2010 7:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe they are better protected agians unemployment because they acept lower pay.

At 3/17/2010 7:39 PM, Blogger OA said...

With the stability and growth in government jobs during this period, the next question is what's the gender break down of government jobs?

At 3/17/2010 11:05 PM, Blogger ExRat said...

I think Lyle is on to something. I'd love to see a comparison of the five most popular areas of study for men and women.

I suspect Highgamma is on to something as well. I've heard a lot of talk about men blowing college off because they just don't think it's worth the financial and political hassle, when they perceive that they can acquire marketable skills at the local 2-year institution at much lower monetary cost and with less investment of time. No idea whether this talk is accurate or just grousing. But certainly a 2-year grad will not have as comprehensive an education as a 4-year grad.

At 3/17/2010 11:36 PM, Anonymous Lyle said...

A couple of factors intervene on the graph that should be corrected out. From 1947 thru the early 1950s there was the GI bill for returning veterans who were predominately male which some what changed the ratio. Does anyone have data on the ratio in the 1920s and 1930s? Second thru 1972 you had the draft deferment for being in college which may have lead some males to enroll who would not otherwise have enrolled.
So it is necessary to recognize that the beginings of time shown were impacted by outside factors.

At 3/17/2010 11:47 PM, Blogger comatus said...

Another little kink: right through the 1950's in most states, the educational requirement for a primary or secondary teacher was a two-year "normal school." The sudden change in credentials, and the re-forming of pedagogical instruction with federal funding, overhauled universities every bit as much as the GI bill had.

At 3/18/2010 4:38 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Perhaps, job creation has increasingly required less strength.

At 3/18/2010 12:04 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

The following article seems to explain the rise of women in the workplace:

How Do We Determine "Female Power?" The Economist explores women and the workplace


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