Much of what National Public Radio says here is true. But they’ve misunderstood one crucial point.
How The Pandemic Is Making The Gender Pay Gap Worse
Entirely willing to agree that it is lowering women’s incomes more than men’s but that is not the same as increasing the gender pay gap. Because we don’t measure the gender pay gap in the manner that would make current circumstances increase it.
In typical recessions, consumers cut back spending on expensive items like cars, refrigerators, computers and houses, which ravages manufacturing, construction and other industries that disproportionately employ men. Men’s unemployment numbers shoot up. Meanwhile, female-dominated professions in areas such as education, health care and in-person services tended to be more recession-proof. And, in what’s known as “the second-earner effect,” many women actually enter the labor force or increase their work hours during recessions as a way to help their families while the primary male breadwinner struggles. This helps tamp down the female unemployment rate.
It’s playing out differently this time, according to a new study by economists Titan Alon, Matthias Doepke, Jane Olmstead-Rumsey, and Michèle Tertilt. They find that this recession is hitting women harder. Between February and April 2020, male unemployment increased 9.9%; female unemployment increased 12.8%. The pandemic has ravaged in-person service jobs — at restaurants, hotels, pilates studios, retail outlets and so on — which are disproportionately done by women. Men are more likely to be able to work remotely, and male-dominated construction and manufacturing, while down, have also proven to be relatively pandemic-proof. Since April, the gender unemployment gap has narrowed, but the women’s unemployment rate remains almost a percentage point higher than men’s.
Yep, all entirely agreed, or to use the expensive word, stipulated.
And yet that doesn’t increase the gender pay gap. Because someone not working is not included in the gender pay gap. Just as we measure productivity – it’s only those people actually working that contribute to what we’re measuring. That’s how France has higher productivity – the low productivity people are out of work entirely.
Much the same is happening here. Yes, agreed, more women than men have lost their jobs. That means that women’s incomes have fallen more than men’s. But the gender pay gap is only measured among those who are in work. So, if anything, it’s likely that the gender pay gap will have narrowed recently. It’s likely to be the less productive and lower paid among the women who bear the brunt of the unemployment. This is, after all, normal in any workforce in any recession. And as more women have been hit we would expect the gender pay gap to have narrowed, not widened.
Sadly, I don’t think we get US gender pay gap numbers on a monthly basis in any report. But it would be fascinating if we did, wouldn’t it? We only get quarterly and those do show the gap closing.