Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gender and the Economic Crisis

One of the more interesting economic arguments made in the past few months has been the effect of gender on the recession, as well as the effect of the recession on the genders.

There were two interesting articles on that point this week. The first, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman appeared in the Washington Post. It argued that companies that have more women in management did better than ones that don’t. It used several studies to buttress that point. It also argued that the male-dominated, testosterone-filled culture of Wall Street helped cause the recession.

I have no doubt that having a more diverse workforce is good for a company. Having a diverse group of people yields more life experience and perspectives to make a good decision. And it’s certainly true that the male-dominated Wall Street culture has let us down. Banks took on way too much risk in some instances. But I’m not sure women would be any better. That is, if women constituted 75% of Lehman, would they have been any less greedy or foolish?

The second article was by David Paul Kuhn on Real Clear Politics. In it, he noted that the stimulus has skewed job creation towards female-dominated sectors. While women experienced just two out of ten job losses, four in ten jobs projected to be created by the stimulus will go to women.

We shouldn’t see the recession in gendered terms. Ultimately, it affects all of us. When a man loses his job that had benefits and decent pay, his whole family suffers, including the woman he’s married to. Some people (very few I hope) might prefer to hold up a score-card and celebrate every time a woman gains a job while a man loses one—score one for the sisterhood against the patriarchy. I’m sure that’s not how most women or families think. They just want to avoid having their homes foreclosed, and their savings depleted.

Economically, it seems like a well-written stimulus would help everyone, regardless of whether it helps the construction industry disproportionately. If a burly man gets a job that puts decent money in his pocket, he’ll be able to spend more at the store. This rise in consumer spending would help the retail sector (which disproportionately employs women). Overall, a robust rise in consumer confidence and spending is the ticket out of the recession.

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