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November 1984, Vol. 107, No. 11
The female-male unemployment differential:
effects of changes in industry employment
Over time, a significant change in the relationship between male and female unemployment rates has occurred. Between 1970 and 1981, the female unemployment rate averaged 1.5 percentage points higher than the male rate. However, in 1982, the male unemployment rate (9.9 percent) exceeded the female rate (9.4 percent) for the first time since such data were recorded beginning in 1947. This reversal in unemployment rates is the apparent culmination of a narrowing of the differential that began in 1978.1 (See chart 1.)
Although male unemployment rates generally increase more than female rates during recessions (see the shaded areas in chart 1), the relative worsening experienced by men during the 1981-82 recession was greater than in previous downturns.2 (And as noted, the female-male unemployment rate differential began to narrow prior to the recession, which is inconsistent with historical patterns.) Are we witnessing a long-term improvement in the unemployment situation of women relative to men? To what extent are the observed changes due to trends in interindustry growth rates in employment which may favor one sex over the other? This article addresses these questions using a modified version of shift-share analysis (see appendix A) to estimate the effect that change in employment patterns among industries has had on the female-male unemployment rate differential since 1964, and to project likely future effects through 1995.3 Shift-share analysis is commonly used to disaggregate regional employment change in an industry in order to identify the components of that change. The application of shift-share analysis in this article, however, is to disaggregate annual changes in the male-female unemployment differential into three components.
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1 The female unemployment rate continued to be less than the male rate in 1983. The rate for men was 9.9 percent; for women 9.2 percent.
2 See, for example, Nancy S. Barrett and Richard D. Morgenstern, "Why Do Blacks and Women Have High Unemployment Rates?" Journal of Human Resources, Fall 1974, pp. 452-64; Janet L. Johnson, "Sex Differentials in Unemployment Rates: A Case for No Concern," Journal of Political Economy, pp. 293-303; Deborah P. Klein, "Trends in employment and unemployment in families," Monthly Labor Review, December 1983, pp. 21-25; Joyanna Moy, "Recent labor market developments in the U.S. and nine other countries," Monthly Labor Review, January 1984, pp. 44-51; "The Female-Male Differential in Unemployment Rates," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, April 1974, pp. 331-50; Beth Niemi, "Geographic Immobility and Labor Force Mobility: A Study of Female Unemployment," in Cynthia B. Lloyd, ed., Sex, Discrimination and the Division of Labor (New York, Columbia University Press, 1975), pp. 61-89; Beth Niemi, "Recent Changes in Differential Unemployment," Growth and Change, July 1977, pp. 22-30; and Sigurd R. Nilsen, "Reccessionary impacts on the unemployment of men and women," Monthly Labor Review, May 1984, pp. 21-25.
3 The year 1964 was chosen as the starting point because it was the first year that male and female unemployment rates were reported for several of the industries included in the analysis.
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