Woman are Displacing Men

July 14, 2009

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Woman are Displacing Men

Two trends are converging and may wreck havoc with how we work and who we employ: the rise of women in the workplace and the disappearance of work traditionally done by men.

Let’s start with men first.  Every economy in the world (except for perhaps a handful of small ones) are run by men, for men. The traditionally “good” jobs — those that pay a decent salary and command respect — have been overwhelmingly held by men. These include farming, manufacturing, and construction jobs. Also many of the jobs that require quantitative skills – mathematics, physics, financial services, stock brokerages, engineering, and so forth have been dominated by men.

But the recession over the past 2-3 years has displaced millions of men – mostly in these kinds of jobs.  Construction work has dried up and manufacturing has been automated, shipped abroad, or just made more efficient resulting in the loss of millions of jobs. Farming is automated and the financial services industry has shed thousands.  For the first time in history there are more women working than men.

Why should this bother us?  Unemployed men have always been a problem.  Idle men turn to alcohol, violence and crime.  Russia has a chronic alcohol problem, exacerbated by unemployment.  Nazi Germany rose due in part to massive male unemployment. In the U.S. the rise in crime and alcoholism an be traced to unemployment and the consequent loss of purpose and worth.  Every politician knows that political unrest and violence are the byproducts of a weak economy.  To reduce crime and keep men employed governments have used “make-work” projects to get men back to work. The United States did this during the Depression and China is doing it now by sponsoring massive public work projects that require construction workers and laborers.

However, in the United States this time around only a small amount of stimulus money is going to construction and other male-dominated fields. A larger portion is earmarked for green energy, research, education and other areas that employ fewer men. It is very likely that the traditional male occupations will never return to anywhere near their pre-recession levels.  Manufacturing will never be a major employer again. There will be growth in quantitative work, but women are increasingly more likely to be educated and qualify for those jobs.

This means that potentially millions of men may remain unemployed and the political question of this century will be what to do with not only unemployed men, but more significantly, unemployable men. Unemployable men are those whose age, education and experience make it difficult for them to learn a new skill. Thousands of men over 40 who have worked in the auto industry their entire lives are an example.  For them to find new jobs will require them to move to a city where jobs are available, get re-educated or learn a new skill, and start at the bottom of the salary scale. It is virtually certain that only a tiny percentage will do that.

At the same time women are receiving two-thirds of all college degrees, are filling the rising number of jobs that require creative thinking, collaboration, and teamwork, and are quickly moving into positions of power and influence where they can help their fellow women.

Right-brain skills are more and more in demand. Creativity, risk taking, entepreneurism, and the ability to live with ambiguity are fast becoming skills that corporations are seeking. Richard Florida has written a book describing such people — those with a mix of creative and analytical skills — as the Creative Class. This group is rapidly growing and will, according to Florida, become the dominant economic group. Women generally excel at these skills and that puts then into a favorable position for employment opportunities.

Given this scenario, it is highly palusible that organziations will have a majority of employees who are women and that the people – men or women – who have a balance of analytical and creative skills will gain a disproportionate amount of wealth.

The challenge for society will be to find a way to navigate through this without a rise in violence, crime or disenfranchised men.

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