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Rising unemployment of men is good for women? Not so.

Categories: Balancing Act, Career Talk, Money


I’ve seen a few articles recently which mention the fact that the layoffs in the current recession are hitting men much harder than women (having something to do with more men being employed in finance and manufacturing, two industries suffering the most). And more than a few news stories and commentators have mentioned that men being laid off is actually good for women. The logic goes like this: Men get laid off. They go home and start taking over more domestic duties, like childcare and cleaning and cooking. This frees up more time for women who then head back into the labor force.

OK, I am sure some very smart people have studied these trends and determined that this is what’s going to happen. And yes, it’s true that more moms are heading back to work or cutting their maternity leaves short during this recession. But I doubt very much that they are doing this because their husbands are doing more around the house. Rather, they are doing this because they need to support their families financially. In other words, they are doing it because they have to, not because they want to.

I work, always have and always will. I like to work and I derive a lot of benefits from working — sense of achievement, intellectual stimulation, fun from meeting interesting people and learning new things. But do I really want to work 50-60 hours a week, which are the hours that the jobs in my line of work require? No, I do it because I have to and if it were up to me, I’d work a lot less.

I’m not alone. Many studies have suggested that the majority of women would prefer to work part-time (we had a great discussion about the pros and cons of working part-time, which I encourage you to check out).  One of the most recent studies showed that only 21% of women with kids under 18 would prefer to work full-time (72% of fathers said full-time work is their preferred situation). Full-time work is hard, it doesn’t have a ton of flexibility, especially if you work in an office/corporate setting, and to suggest that women going back to work in this recession are doing it because they are choosing to do it is a bit short-sighted, in my opinion.

Oh, and about those newly-minted laid-off husbands: The same article mentions a study of women in 37 countries, which showed that what makes women happy is not more help from their mates around the house, but being married to someone who loves them and makes at least 2/3 of the family’s income. Feminism, it seems, hasn’t changed our ingrained notions of what roles men and women should have in the family.

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3 comments so far...

  • Okay - let me say up front I haven’t read the articles you refer to, so I may be a bit out of the loop on this topic, but the one thing that I had heard (a while back) was that a primary reason more men than women were getting laid off these days was because, although layoffs are happening across all industries, a disproportionate number are happening in very male-dominated fields like construction, manufacturing, etc.
    Not sure how exactly that affects the analysis of the thoughts/questions you’re posing. I guess to me it at least indicates that it’s probably not like ‘1 man out, 1 woman in’ to the same job position in most cases.

    Also, I tend to agree with your gut instinct that the reason more women are heading back to work right now is not, “Gee, this seems like such a great time to do it! What a terrific opportunity!” but rather a choice made out of financial obligation and responsibility. I hope that there are exceptions to this generalization, but my guess is that you are correct.

    Kate  |  May 13th, 2009 at 11:17 am

  • I just wanted to say that I agree with you, and I’m so glad to have Nataly and this community. You make me feel a little less alone as a parent.

    Colleen  |  May 14th, 2009 at 1:58 pm

  • So, I need to pipe in as a working mom and wife of someone who recently lost his job. First of all, since my husband has become unemployed, he does not help out around the house more. In fact, he is home less trying to get new business deals going. We haven’t saved in daycare because if we don’t keep our son in his school/daycare class, where would my husband take him when he had an interview/meeting with new business prospects??

    I’ve always worked (short of a 4 month maternity leave) and always will. I would love to be home more and am thankful I work for a flexible company, but we, too, just went through layoffs and the flexibility is dwindling (I now do 4/9s and 4hrs every Friday instead of 4/10s with Fridays off; and have double the workload.

    I’d like to meet the people who do these articles (the one Nataly mentioned) and see just how smart they are, exactly… Just because men have more time on their hands doesn’t mean they’re going to help more with housework. And if a husband does help out more, does it really make more sense for a woman who has historically stayed home to get a job? Please, no offense meant, but if a person doesn’t have work experience or a qualified job history, they’re less likely to make great money or even get hired, for that matter, with as many qualified applicants that are out there currently looking for work.

    Stacey  |  May 15th, 2009 at 12:18 pm