the latest figures from the CSO, which show that almost 34,000 new jobs were created in the 12 months to June, also demonstrate that women are faring much better than men in Ireland's brave new labour market.
According to the CSO, there were 1.869 million people with jobs in this country in the second quarter of 2013 – an increase of 33,800 or 1.8per cent on a year earlier. Welcome and all as this news is, it might be a good idea to remember that, even after the increase recorded over the past year, there are still 269,000 fewer people with jobs than there were in the final quarter of 2007.
While the latest figures seem to confirm earlier indications that the labour market has finally turned the corner they don't alter the fact that the two sexes have fared very differently over the past five-and-a-half years.
Way back in the last quarter of 2007 73.3 per cent of all males of working age were participating in the labour force while the female participation rate was 54.4 per cent. A mere 5.1 per cent of male workers were unemployed at the end of 2007 while the figure for females was even lower at just 3.8 per cent.
Fast-forward to the middle of this year and the male participation rate had slumped to 67.9 per cent while the unemployment rate had soared to 15.9 per cent, having been 18.1 per cent as recently as the second quarter of 2012. Proportionately, females have been hit less hard with their labour participation rate barely budging to 53.4 per cent and their unemployment rate rising to 11.4 per cent.
In essence what has happened in the labour market since the end of 2007 is that male workers were far more likely to leave the workforce altogether than their female counterparts while those male workers who did remain in the workforce were far more at risk of losing their jobs than female workers.
Male unemployment is also quantitatively different. Both in absolute and proportionate terms, jobless male workers are far more likely to be long-term unemployed, ie out of work for 12 months or longer, than female workers.
The CSO calculated that there were 300,000 unemployed workers at mid-year. Of these jobless workers, 189,000 – almost two-third –, were male while 111,000 were female. The disparity between the sexes was even wider when one looked at the long-term unemployed totals – 123,000 males as against just 52,000 females. This means that while less than half of the female jobless were long-term unemployed, two-thirds of jobless males had been out of work for at least a year.
So, not alone are female workers less likely to have lost their jobs, but when they did lose their jobs they were more likely to find a new one.
How does one explain the superior performance of females in the Irish labour force since the economic downturn began?
Part of the explanation is certainly down to the fact that certain male-dominated sectors, construction in particular, have been hit particularly hard by the downturn. Construction has shed a massive 180,000 jobs since mid-2006. However, even at the peak there were a mere 14,000 female construction workers, out of a total of more than 280,000.
By comparison, many female workers tend to be concentrated in sectors that have weathered the economic storm better. Unfortunately, the CSO doesn't provide a gender breakdown of the 377,000 public sector workers, including 49,000 who work in the semi-states. However, it is a reasonable supposition that females account for a higher percentage of public sector workers than for the labour force as a whole.
At the end of June, almost 113,000 females were working in education, a further 193,000 in health and social work along with 47,500 in public administration and defence. By comparison, there were only 37,700 males employed in education, 51,600 in health and social work, and 47,700 in public administration and defence.
So why are so many female workers concentrated in these relatively protected areas of the labour market? Could it possibly have anything to do with higher female levels of educational attainment? A 2011 report by the CSO found that while 41 per cent of females aged between 25 and 64 had a third-level qualification only 35 per cent of males were similarly qualified.
The same report also found that this third-level qualifications gap between males and females had widened from 3 per cent to 6 per cent over the previous six years.
On the basis of the available evidence, it seems clear that these higher levels of educational attainment have given female workers a clear competitive edge over male workers.
This situation isn't going to change any time soon. Department of Education statistics show that girls do better than boys in most subjects leading almost inevitably to higher levels of educational attainment from the next generation of female workers. For male workers, the bad news is that they are almost certainly going to fall even further behind in the labour force's battle of the sexes in the years ahead.