In shrinking workforce, women may surpass men

The last time women outnumbered men at work was in the 1940s. The gender balance is tilting again
Feb 07, 2009 04:30 AM
Raveena Aulakh


Angie Dick found work at Kresslor Personnel employment agency when she heard her husband might be laid off, which happened two weeks ago.


When Angie Dick heard her husband, Mark, might be laid-off at his factory job, she knew it was time to start working.

"I hadn't worked for 13 years after I was disabled in a crash," said Angie, 44. In September, she started working as a sales representative for Kresslor Personnel, an employment agency in Mississauga.

Mark was laid-off at his oil drum-refurbishing job two weeks ago.

It was the same situation for Lori Dawe, 40. She started working as a dispatcher for Kelron Logistics, a transportation company, after her fiancé was downsized from his cleaning job some months ago.

As the economic downturn gets worse, experts say Dick and Dawe are part of a trend in which women find it easier to get jobs, and there's a possibility women will soon outnumber men in the job force.

The last time women surpassed men was during the World War II, when men were overseas fighting and women flooded the workforce.

More than 129,000 jobs were lost in January across the country and the unemployment rate shot up to 7.2 per cent from 6.6 per cent the previous month, Statistics Canada reported yesterday.

Men lost nearly two-thirds of these jobs and most were full-time positions.

StatsCan figures show a steep drop in Ontario's manufacturing sector, which employs mostly males, and growth in the health care and social assistance sectors, areas dominated by females.

"The manufacturing sector has been bleeding, and that's where men traditionally worked," said Walid Hejazi, professor of International Business at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. In the short term, there's a strong possibility the number of women with full-time jobs will surpass men, he said yesterday, as Canada's worst employment numbers in decades were released.

The manufacturing sector, centred in Ontario and Quebec, shed 101,000 jobs, the worst decline ever recorded. Ontario was hit the hardest where 71,000 jobs disappeared, pushing the unemployment rate to 8 per cent – the worst in the province since November 1997.

According to StatsCan, there were 7,295,900 men with full-time jobs in January 2005 and 6,297,400 women working full-time.

By January 2008, that number had dropped to 7,186,800 for men and to 5,339,200 for women. And as of last month, it fell further, to 7,095,000 full-time jobs for men and slightly for women, to 5,339,000 full-time positions.

In January 2009, almost 28,000 jobs were lost for youth in the age group of 15-24, spiking the unemployment rate to 12.7 per cent for that age category.

The employment declines were most pronounced in vehicle manufacturing. But layoffs were widespread in trucking, construction, furniture, computer and electronics and non-metallic mineral products, sectors where men have traditionally worked.

The only industry where a significant number of jobs were created – 31,000 – was health care and social assistance, where women have dominated. "These sectors are funded by the government and so women don't take such a negative impact," Hejazi pointed out.

Manufacturing is always worst hit in every recession. "And men are taking a hit. It's terrible," he said. "It happened in the past (1982 and 1992) and is happening again."

Irene Henriques, associate professor of economics at the Schulich School of Business at York University, sees it as demographics issue as well. "There are more jobs in health care because of baby boomers. Women have always been care providers, and more are working now."

Economists also point out that men have lost high-paying jobs with health care and pensions but women are supporting families with jobs that are not necessarily as good. Mark Dick earned about $70,000 a year but Angie says she doesn't earn "as much" in her job as a sales representative for Kresslor Personnel. For Dawe, the dispatch job doesn't pay much but "it's fair with the way the market is."

"People do what they have to in hard times, especially in one-income families," said Henriques. "If the (one) job is lost, there's emphasis on women to find jobs. That's what they do."

This trend can also mean a shift in family dynamics. "If more men find themselves home, that has important implications for the way families operate," said Julie McCarthy, assistant professor at Rotman School of Management. "It's not a bad thing – most men are amazing parents but traditionally, it's not their primary role. Perhaps this trend will facilitate that."

If roles are reversed, people should have a positive outlook, she said. "It's not all doom and gloom."

Research indicates women, who become breadwinners, are still responsible for kids' activities and other domestic things as the men spend hours hunting for work.

While women will likely overtake men in the job force, it will balance out once the recession is over, say economists.

"Men may not be able to find work in manufacturing sector but they'll definitely be absorbed elsewhere," said Hejazi.

Some women will continue to work, others won't. "But I see the income gap between men and women close in. Men won't find those high-paying jobs easily."