Are women being disproportionately hit by job losses?

A big fanfare this week for the employment and unemployment data from the Office of National Statistics. Overall unemployment fell slightly – good news – but the headlines pointed to the differences between men and women. For men, unemployment fell by 40,000 while for women it rose by 31,000.

This led John Philpott of the CIPD to argue that “cuts in public spending are already having an adverse impact on job prospects for women”, and Brendan Barber of the TUC to warn that “women look likely to suffer rising joblessness for some time to come”. No doubt this will be grist to the mill of the Fawcett Society, which recently threatened to take the government to court because the CSR was going to hit women disproportionately.

Well, perhaps. As about two-thirds of the public sector workforce is female, job cuts may well have a bigger impact on women than men – though it doesn’t necessarily follow. During the recession we heard from unions and other pressure groups that women would be affected more badly than men. They weren’t,unemployment rose much more sharply for men despite the fears of women ministers at the time .

Looking closely at this month’s data, public sector redundancies, although they have increased, represent a small proportion of redundancies in the last quarter and cannot account for the rise in female unemployment. In any case, women continue to have a much lower redundancy rate than men: from July to September the proportion of men losing their jobs was 7.0% while for women the rate was only 4.6%.

In fact, the figures show something that the newspapers didn’t spot: that female employment, far from falling, actually rose by 31,000 in the last quarter. Unemployment rose because there was a big increase in females entering the workforce, possibly related to the record number of female graduates this summer – another good thing.

As always, employment data needs careful analysis before people jump on the bandwagon of denouncing the government’s policies as “anti-women”.

Len Shackleton is an Editorial and Research Fellow at the IEA and Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham. He was previously Dean of the Royal Docks Business School at the University of East London and prior to that was Dean of the Westminster Business School. He has also taught at Queen Mary, University of London and worked as an economist in the Civil Service. His research interests are primarily in the economics of labour markets. He has worked with many think tanks, most closely with the Institute of Economic Affairs, where he is an Economics Fellow. He edits the journal Economic Affairs, which is co-published by the IEA and the University of Buckingham.