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May 1984, Vol. 107, No. 5
on the unemployment of men and women
In 1982, the annual average unemployment rate for men was 9.9 percent and the rate for women was 9.4 percent.1 (See table 1.) This was the first time since 1947 that the men's unemployment rate exceeded that for women. This article seeks to explain this reversal by discussing the factors behind the differing impacts of the 1973-75 and 1981-82 recessions, on men and women. The factors contributing to the unemployment change are estimated and their magnitudes compared to determine the source of the sex differences. In addition, sex differences in unemployment change between metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas2 are compared because economic opportunities for women in nonmetropolitan areas have historically differed from those of their metropolitan counterparts. Several analyses have attributed these differences to slack labor demand for women in other than metropolitan areas.3
The basic hypothesis is that changes in the industry composition of the labor force and differences in the sectors affected by the 1980-82 recessionary period as compared with the 1973-75 recession have contributed to the significant rise in the unemployment rate for men and the reversed relative position of men's and women's unemployment rates.4 Changes in the industry-specific unemployment rates of women relative to men, reflecting, among other things, changes in the commitment of women to the labor force, are also expected to have contributed to the reversal of the rates.5 Finally, it is hypothesized that sex differences in the sources of unemployment change will be similar for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas, reflecting a continued convergence in labor force characteristics of the two types of areas.6
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1 Annual average data obtained from the Current Population Survey are used throughout this analysis. Annual averages are used because no seasonally adjusted data series exists with a metropolitan, nonmetropolitan breakdown.
2 Metropolitan counties are Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas (SMSA's) as designated by the Office of Management and Budget in 1973, after the 1970 census data had become available. Except in New England, an SMSA is a county or group of contiguous counties that contains at least one city of 50,000 inhabitants or more, or twin cities with a combined population of at least 50,000. In addition, contiguous counties are included in an SMSA if, according to certain criteria, they are socially and economically integrated with the central city. The population living outside of SMSA's constitutes the nonmetro population.
3 David L. Bowen and Jeanne M. O'Leary, Labor Force Activity of Women in Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan America, Rural Development Research Report 15 (Washington, U.S. Department of Agriculture, September 1979); Lillian Chenoweth and Elizabeth Maret-Haven, "Woman's labor force participationa look at some residential patterns," Monthly Labor Review, March 1978, pp. 38-41.
4 Norma Bowers, "Have employment patterns in recessions changed?" Monthly Labor Review, February 1981, pp. 15-28, suggests that changes in the industry mix of the labor force has moderated recessionary impacts in the post World War II period.
5 Karl E. Tacuber, "Demographic Trends Affecting the Future Labor Force," Demographic Trends and Full Employment, Special Report 12 (National Commission for Manpower Policy, December 1976), discusses some of the changes in women's labor force behavior and the impact on employment trends. Also Valerie Kincade Oppenheimer, Work and the Family: A Study in Social Demography (New York, Academic Press, 1982), concludes that women's employment patterns are becoming more continuous, rather than a stable pattern of intermittent labor force participation.
6 James D. Schaub, The Nonmetro Labor Force in the Seventies, Rural Development Research Report 33 (Washington, U.S. Department of Agriculture, November 1981).
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