Is the Recession Harder on Women than Men?

“During the current economic crisis, high-flying women have been overlooked for promotion, according to a study out Tuesday,” read the August 19 CNN headline, above the subtitle, “At the upper level of management, business is still dominated by men.”

The study in question was Opportunity or Setback? High Potential Women and Men During Economic Crisis, from Catalyst, a non-profit organization founded in 1962 “to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business.” Their study, as it happens, shows a great deal more than the CNN headline would indicate.

Catalyst studied 873 MBA alumni from the best business schools in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia between 1996 and 2007. The focus was on their careers between November 2007 and June 2009, a time of major economic downturn. The differences between men and women proved statistically insignificant, according to the authors.

During that time, 31 percent of the women were promoted and 12 percent lost their jobs. On the other hand, 10 percent of the men lost their jobs and 36 percent of men were promoted. As we have often noted, statistical disparities are the rule rather than the exception, but these are very close. The remarkable statistic involves promotion, which outpaced job loss by such a wide margin, for the women and men in the study. In Europe, 44 percent of the men were promoted compared to 26 percent of women, but Catalyst managers in Europe relate that to recruitment issues, not the recession.

There was some difference at the very top of organizations, where 19 percent of female executives lost jobs, while only six percent of men lost theirs. Catalyst says these figures represent the few women in these posts, but as readers of the Contrarian know, there is more than head-counting and old-boy networks to this issue.

The Wall Street Journal profiled Robin Rankin and Pooja Malik, both women who had been promoted to high-level positions with, respectively, Credit Suisse and Barclays Global Investors. Neither woman believed that gender had anything to do with it. The Journal also noted that in July, 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 5.4 percent of men and 5.2 percent of women age 25 and older, all with college degrees, were unemployed. I fail to see much of a gender gap in those statistics.

During the recession, nine percent of women took voluntary leaves of absence, compared to three percent of the men. On the other hand, the Catalyst study also found, a full 10 percent of the women returned to work from voluntary leaves, compared with only two percent of the men. Catalyst found little difference in men and women’s willingness to relocate.

In other words, as the Wall Street Journal headline put it, there are “Few gender differences in a recession.” In the accompanying story, Dana Mattioli wrote that, “women with M.B.A.s have fared during the recession as well as their male counterparts.” This should not be the case according to feminist orthodoxy. By that standard we live in a patriarchal society, in which men rule for the benefit of men alone. As we noted last month, the oppression is supposedly such that, even when women discriminate against women, as in the theatrical world, men are ultimately to blame.

If the broader society keeps women down, then by the same logic the recession should be rougher on women than on men. That is hardly the case, according to Opportunity or Setback? The gender differences in a recession are few and insignificant, but the Wall Street Journal, as befits good journalism, also found some contrary opinion. Harvard economist Lawrence Katz, for example, contends that the recession is hitting men harder because of the downturn in manufacturing and construction.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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