According to leaks, including from as far away as India, where the prime minister is visiting, next week’s federal budget will be full of sex. Or at least gender, including more paid leave for new fathers. This would be in aid of redefining roles in the family and encouraging fathers to take on more child care and thus help mothers spend more time in the labour market. Ottawa may have no business in the bedrooms of the nation, but the nurseries? You bet!
Wouldn’t you know it? Just as the market solves a problem, government comes rushing in with a fix. OK, so “solves” is a bit strong. But according to a new research paper, women have been moving into high-skilled jobs in large numbers in recent years, not least because those jobs seem to be requiring more “female” attributes.
The paper, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, bears the provocative title “The ‘End of Men’ and Rise of Women in the High-Skilled Labor Market.” It’s written by economists Guido Matias Cortes of York University in Toronto, Henry E. Siu of UBC and Nir Jaimovich of the University of Zurich. The three looked at employment in the U.S. since 1980 and found that the probability that a college-educated man works in a “cognitive/high-wage occupation” has fallen, while the probability that a college-educated woman does has risen.
This is in spite of a much bigger increase in the number of college-educated women than men so it’s something of a puzzle. With a big increase in their supply, you might think college-educated women would have more trouble than men finding good jobs. But that’s not the case. The key to the puzzle, the economists think, is in the changing nature of good jobs, which increasingly seem to require social skills, where women have an advantage.
You can’t judge a paper by its title, but you might read it because of its title. In that regard, “the end of men” is more like clickbait for policy wonks than it is a description of reality. Men aren’t about to vanish from the high-skilled labour market. Even so, while 66 per cent of male college graduates were employed in cognitive jobs in 1980, only 63 per cent were in 2000. At the same time, the percentage of college-educated women working in such jobs rose from 54.2 per cent in 1980 to 58.8 per cent in 2000.
Moreover, the pattern is exactly the opposite of what changing demographics would have predicted, given historical patterns in which age groups, races and immigrant groups tend to get high-skilled jobs. It’s also not a result of an employment shift towards jobs that are traditionally female. The female share of employment increased in almost all — 92 per cent — of these “cognitive,” i.e. brainwork not brawn-work, jobs.
So what is going on? Is there less discrimination against women in brain jobs than there used to be (think of that movie “Hidden Figures”)? Are women getting better at cognitive work, if in fact they ever weren’t as good as men at it? Or are the good jobs themselves changing in ways that favour women? Door number three, say the economists.
People used to say “Vive la différence!” in regard to gender differences. Nowadays you take your life in your hands by asserting any differences exist. But the three economists charge ahead nevertheless: “Evidence from psychology and neuroscience research indicates that women have a comparative advantage in tasks requiring social skills such as empathy, communication, emotion recognition, and verbal expression.”
The U.S. Department of Labor codes jobs according to the characteristics or “temperaments” required of people doing them. What might be called social skills include “adaptability to situations involving the interpretation of feelings, ideas or facts in terms of personal viewpoint” and “dealing with people beyond giving and receiving instructions.” The researchers construct a social-skill index on the basis of these and two other “temperaments” and find that occupations with higher social-skill requirements do indeed have a larger proportion of female workers.
Plus, looking at changes through time, they find that the biggest increase in “social-skill requirements” has been in cognitive jobs, which is also where the biggest increase in the proportion of female workers has taken place (9.2 per cent). Their (spuriously precise) guesstimate of the size of the effect is that the changing nature of the work accounts for about 57 per cent of the increased female presence in these well-paying cognitive jobs.
People used to say it’s a man’s world. Increasingly, it seems, it’s a woman’s world. If the world is already revolving in feminist ways, do we really need a federal budget to spin it along faster?