Friday 23 March 2018

Women weathered ravages of recession better than men

Bebhinn Flood outside The Design House on Dawson Street, Dublin. The designer decided to take a leap and start her own business last summer. Picture: Arthur Carron
Bebhinn Flood outside The Design House on Dawson Street, Dublin. The designer decided to take a leap and start her own business last summer. Picture: Arthur Carron

Anne Marie Walsh, Industry Correspondent

WOMEN workers were shielded from job losses more than men during the recession because they make up a huge portion of the public sector.

New studies reveal that women weathered the worst of the ravages of the economic crisis because many work in the state health and education sectors, where compulsory redundancies are non-existent.

Female staff also largely escaped redundancy over the past number of years because less than 2pc worked in the decimated construction industry.

The findings are revealed in a new report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) on how the sexes fared since the economy took a nosedive. It says women's "over-representation" in the health and education sectors sheltered them from job losses, as both sectors expanded during the downturn.

The fact that women survived the worst effects of the downturn has led to a narrowing of the gender gap in terms of their participation in the workforce.

The most female-dominated sectors are education, where in 2012 a total of 74.6pc were women, and health and social work, where more than 80pc were women. The most male-dominated industries are construction, agriculture and transport and storage.

"Women's concentration in public sector employment definitely provided greater protection from job loss," said the authors of 'Gender and the Quality of Work: From Boom to Recession'.


Despite the crisis in Exchequer funding, the Government did not enforce compulsory redundancies. Instead, it offered voluntary redundancy packages and imposed a ban on hiring in most sections of the public service. The report says that in the first few years of the recession, private sector employment declined by 211,000, while public sector employment grew by 19,000.

This changed after 2009 as state agencies shed some of those on short-term contracts and budgets in health and education were cut.

The introduction of a voluntary redundancy scheme in the health service and a freeze on recruitment meant that employment in the state sector began to shrink from 2009 to 2012.

However, overall employment still dropped at a slower rate than the private sector.

As a result, only 63pc of men and 55pc of women were employed by the end of 2012, reducing the gender gap by 8pc.

In 2007, 77pc of men of working age were employed compared to 61pc of women. However, there are signs that men are bouncing back quicker as last year employment grew and unemployment fell much faster for men than for women.

In addition, official statistics suggest there was a widening of the gender gap in wages between 2007 and 2010.

The researchers said there was a "major obstacle" to monitoring equality in the workplace because there are no national data on key figures, including the gap in pay between the sexes.

Women also felt more pressure at work during the recession than men, while stress levels were lower for them prior to the downturn.

Report author Dr Frances McGinnity said there were "no clear winners" in a second report on the impact of the recession which looked at all groups in society.

The report showed that children are the most deprived group in society, while the elderly are the least deprived.

It says 32pc of children under 14 were deprived in 2011, while the deprivation rate for the over-65s was just 11pc.

An individual is described as deprived if they lack two of 11 basic goods and services, including food, clothing, heating, the ability to replace worn out furniture, or socialise. The ESRI report also found that eastern European and African nationals had higher rates of unemployment than Irish people.

People who were previously married, with no children, and parents who lived together suffered a steeper rise in unemployment between 2007 and 2012 than other groups.

For 20-24 year olds, the unemployment rate grew from 6pc to 23pc between 2007 and 2012. This was much faster than for adults aged 35 to 44, where the rate rose from 4pc to 14pc. The number of women and men working part time because they could not find a full-time job rose from 3pc in 2007 to 11pc of women and 7pc of men in 2012.

Over a quarter of workers feared they would lose their jobs in 2010, which is very high by international standards. Across the EU, an average of 16pc of workers felt they were at risk of losing their jobs over the next six months that year.

Associate Research Professor Helen Russell said although the gender gap had narrowed, it was not necessarily good news.

"I don't know if we want to be welcoming a reduction in inequality, if it means everyone's situation is getting worse," she said.

Irish Independent

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business