Why Women Bore the Brunt of the Great 'He-cession'

Since the collapse of the domestic housing market in 2007 and the ensuing global financial swoon, much has been made of the Great Recession's effect on men. More men lost their jobs than women, and just two years ago, more men were unemployed than women. Because of this, the Department of Horrible Neologisms has christened this the "Great He-Cession," or, more obnoxiously, "Man-cession." Now that the economy is starting to tenuously recover, however, women are being left out in the cold as men return to work, and it turns out that while men were losing their jobs, women were losing out on a lot more. Man-cession, indeed.

The Times' Nancy Folbre argues that regardless of who is losing their jobs, the structure of American society dictates that mass unemployment will always be more harmful to women than to men. This is simply because women usually have to take care of the needs of someone besides themselves; when a woman is the primary earner in her home, she's often responsible for the care and expenses associated with one or more dependents and the loss of her income effects everyone depending on it. When a single man is the primary earner in his home, he's often only responsible for himself. According to Folbre,

In 2010...about 23 percent of children under the age of 18 lived with mothers but not fathers, about 3 percent with fathers but not mothers and 4 percent with neither parent. In 2007 (the latest year for which data are available), slightly more than half of all custodial parents had formal child support agreements or awards, and less than half of those received the full amount they were due.

The recession was only beginning in 2007. It's hard to imagine that, as men lost their jobs, they were suddenly any more likely to pay the child support they owed to their children's mother (support they didn't seem to really pay in full, anyway).

But men weren't the only ones cutting back on childcare expenses; as governments at the local, state, and national level implemented near-austerity measures, some of the first casualties of budget reductions were programs designed to benefit impoverished families and child care programs. Because women overwhelmingly take primary responsibility for child care, these He-cession era cutbacks impacted — you guessed it — women.

Even married women were more negatively impacted by family unemployment than married men. Because women often manage household expenses, more married women than married men reported feeling stressed about reducing household costs when one spouse was unemployed. Inflating medical costs also effected married women more than their male counterparts.

So, as much fun as it is to coin new buzzwords or write about how men are totally over and watch out, dudes, the ladies are coming to take everything away from you, reality reflects something different. Until women aren't the primary caretakers of children, they're all she-cessions.

Nancy Folbre: The Recession in Pink and Blue [NYT]