As Labor Market Tightens, Women Are Moving Into Male-Dominated Jobs | Free Press from USA

As Labor Market Tightens, Women Are Moving Into Male-Dominated Jobs

As Labor Market Tightens, Women Are Moving Into Male-Dominated Jobs

Traditionally male industries have made a comeback. The three fastest-growing sectors since December 2016 have been the three that are most male-dominated: mining, construction, and transportation and utilities. Yet in the same period women’s employment has increased more. It turns out that women are moving into these male-dominated fields, as well as a few others.

The question, though, is whether this is actually a boon for these new female employees. In the long run, it may not be. While some male-dominated fields have a promising growth outlook, that is not true for all of them — female-dominated occupations like health care are predicted to grow fastest in the long term.

Women in male-dominated workplaces also typically face more discrimination and harassment, including when they’re pregnant. And when they start working in a field in greater numbers, average pay tends to decline.

In comparing two 12-month periods — 2016 and December 2017 to November 2018 — employment in five male-dominated sectors grew 3.4 percent, versus 2.5 percent in the mixed and female-dominated sectors. (The other two male-dominated sectors are agriculture and manufacturing.)

At the same time, the number of employed women economywide grew 2.9 percent versus 2.5 percent for men.

The faster employment growth for women was concentrated in sectors that are at least two-thirds male. In these sectors, women’s employment rose 5.0 percent, versus 3.0 percent for men. Women’s employment grew more than 10 percent in construction, mining, and transportation and utilities.

To keep this in context, even with this faster growth, only 11 percent of women now work in male-dominated sectors; it would take many more years of rapid growth of women’s employment in male-dominated sectors to move this up significantly. But their recent entry into them could help break down gender barriers.

“In a tight labor market, firms give workers a chance they would not otherwise consider,” said Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard. “But the tight labor market could facilitate longer-term change if it demonstrates to firms that they should be more open to women in previously male-dominated areas.”

This growth in women’s employment in male-dominated industries is not just about desk jobs. Within male-dominated industries, the fastest growth for women has been at the building site and on the factory floor, rather than in the accounting office.

Women’s employment in the male-dominated jobs within these male-dominated industries — mostly making and moving around physical goods — rose 6.9 percent, versus just 2.3 percent for men. In contrast, in mixed- and female-dominated jobs within these male-dominated industries — office, sales, service and management jobs — men’s employment grew a bit faster (4.3 percent) than women’s (3.8 percent).

Nolee Anderson, 24, a carpenter in Nashville, said that while she’s usually the only woman on a construction site, she has noticed a lot more interest in the field from young women. And the workwear company Wolverine has sponsored her to draw attention to diverse trade workers at a time when firms say they’re having trouble finding enough of them.

She said that when she entered carpentry, she didn’t think her gender would stand out, but being female “has given me a leg up,” she said. “Employers are excited to hire diverse, qualified people.”

Yet even though women are increasingly getting traditionally male jobs, they are not necessarily the same jobs. Median earnings for women working full time in these jobs are 29 percent below men’s earnings, and this pay gap isn’t closing. Between 2016 and now, earnings rose 5.0 percent for men in these jobs, slightly ahead of 4.7 percent for women.

Further, this growth of women in male-dominated jobs might last only as long as the labor market stays tight. With unemployment at its lowest level in almost 50 years, employers are looking beyond their traditional work forces to groups they might not have hired in the past, including prisoners and refugees.

The real test comes when unemployment starts rising again and employers have more candidates to choose from. Then we’ll know whether the current rise of women in male-dominated jobs reflects a permanent shift in gender norms or a stopgap measure. One hint from recent history: Women’s share of male-dominated jobs climbed in 2000, the last time unemployment dipped below 4 percent, then fell as unemployment picked up.

Even if there is a permanent shift to hiring more women in male-dominated jobs, these jobs aren’t the future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in male-dominated occupational sectors will grow 4.1 percent between 2016 and 2026, half the rate of mixed- and female-dominated sectors (8.3 percent).

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