GENDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE RECESSION.

It's been fascinating to watch the media coverage of the economic meltdown as it relates gender (and class) in our society. In January, data showed that men's participation in the workforce was declining faster than women's. Basically, in recessions, more men tend to lose their jobs than women, hence there is a greater percentage of women in the workforce. (Hmm... if what's bad for the economy is also bad for traditional gender roles, you'd think the right wing would have clamored a little harder for the stimulus package.)

The New York Times was inspired to publish an article on the implications for masculinity:

Mr. Steuer, 43, was recently laid off from his job at a small research business. "It's hard not to imagine yourself as the breadwinner," he said. "A lot of your ego eggs are in the job basket. I can't shake the psychology that I'm supposed to provide."

The article takes great pains to portray Steuer as a modern man, presumably to highlight the level to which these outmoded views of masculinity are ingrained in our society. Though, as Emily Bazelon writes, "I'm skeptical about the broad claim that men feel the pain of layoffs more than women do." Me too. As the Times article notes, near the end:

YET while men may appear to reel more socially and psychologically from job loss, they fare far better when it comes to re-employment.

In a 2002 study, two sociology professors at Wichita State University, Charles S. Koeber and David W. Wright, found that women who were laid off and went on to look for another job were re-employed less often than men in the same position.

The realities of layoffs are just as bad -- or even worse -- for women. The Times does not provide actual data on the psychological effects of layoffs on men versus women, but I'd wager that a significant number of upper-middle-class women DO strongly see their job as tied to their identity, and are likely suffering psychological effects of joblessness as well.

A nagging problem with this article -- as with so much coverage of the economy -- is that it focuses on people of one economic class (upper-middle or upper class), with the same family dynamic: two-income families with mixed-gender partners, where the male partner earns (or earned) more. I'm guessing the gender dynamics play out differently in families where the female partner is already the primary breadwinner, in families with much lower total incomes, in families where there is a single breadwinner (yes, I think there are still gender dynamics in play when there is only one head of household). But we're not reading much about them.

I understand that it's more interesting for the Times to write about gender dynamics in two-partner families where the male is the breadwinner. But, after awhile, the disproportionate coverage of impact of the economy on the upper-middle-class sends the message that these are the people who are most affected. That simply isn't true.

--Ann Friedman

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