Economic downturns have tended to affect men’s employment more than women’s, which gave rise to terms such as “he-cession” or “man-cession” and “he-covery.” Although this dynamic was true at the time of the Great Recession, it doesn’t hold true for the COVID-19-induced recession.
The FRED graph above displays data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: monthly, seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for men and women from January 2007 to September 2020. During the Great Recession (December 2007 to June 2009), the unemployment rate rose from 5.1% to 10.6% for men and 4.9% to 8.3% for women.
Those employment losses contrast greatly with the losses in the COVID-19-induced recession: Women’s unemployment rate rose from 3.4% to 16.2% between February and April 2020 and men’s rose from 3.6% to 13.5%. Although the unemployment rate has declined considerably since its peak in April, the unemployment gap between men and women still persists.
How might we explain (not mansplain) this large and different gender gap in unemployment? One potential explanation is the ongoing closures of schools and day care centers that increased parents’ childcare needs and reduced their flexibility. As unemployment often results in earnings losses, this recession could contribute to an increase in income inequality between men and women, especially if childcare responsibilities continue to fall disproportionately on mothers.
How this graph was created: Search for and select “Unemployment Rate -Women.” From the “Edit Graph” menu, use the “Add Line” tab to search for and select “Unemployment Rate – Men.” Add that new data series to the existing graph. Adjust the sample period to January 2007 to September 2020.