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A Lipstick Economy? Women Taking Over the Workforce

Are we turning into a lipstick economy? Job losses have been devastating for everyone in this ugly, long recession. But, as it turns out, more women than men are holding on to their jobs. And experts say that soon, for the first time ever, there will be more women in the workforce than men.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 82 percent of current job losses have affected men. Women tend to work in industries like teaching and health care, which have held up better than traditional male jobs (on Wall Street and in manufacturing and construction, all industries that have been hit severely).

Economic consulting firm IHS Global Insight estimates that 3/4 of the workers in the health care and education sectors are women. Employers hired an additional 536,000 workers in those two fields in 2008 (a 2.9 percent gain). Men make up 93 percent of workers in construction and 72 percent in manufacturing, which suffered 8.5 percent and 5.7 percent declines in hiring, respectively.

As of November 2008, women held 49.1 percent of the nation’s jobs, according to the non-farm payroll data collected by the BLS—a figure which will undoubtedly rise.

Although their jobs may be safer than men’s jobs in a recession, women are still at a financial disadvantage as the primary breadwinners: They make 80 cents for every dollar that a man earns in the workforce and are paid for fewer hours (many women hold part-time jobs in order to spend more time at home with their children). They are also more likely not to have health insurance.

In terms of employment, aging men also have to face some sobering news. Men aged 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 had unemployment rates below the national average in 2007. Now their rates of unemployment—8.5 percent and 8.7 percent respectively—are above the national average. Unemployment rates among women in those age groups are much more favorable, at 6.4 and 5.7 percent.

Teresa M. and her husband, Phil, illustrate the reality of these statistics. Eight years ago, after raising the couple’s two boys, Teresa went back to get her teaching degree. While she is guaranteed job security as a middle-school science teacher, Phil recently lost his twenty-year-long position as an audio engineer, even after having recorded events like the Oscars and performances of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

“Thank goodness I have health benefits and will keep my job,” says Teresa. “[Phil]’s been getting some freelance gigs, but at fifty, it’s hard for him to see lots of full-time opportunities right now.”

But there may be another contributing factor to the narrowing job gap between women and men, according to Mark Perry, a professor of finance and business economics at the University of Michigan-Flint. That factor is education. For the past twenty-five years, more American women than men have been graduating from universities, and the pace is accelerating. Currently, 135 women for every 100 men earn a college degree each year. The U.S. unemployment rate is 3.1 percent for university grads and 10.5 percent for those without a high-school diploma.

“This trend is going to continue,” says Perry.

Originally published on BettyConfidential