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More Women Emerge As Breadwinners

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More Women Emerge As Breadwinners


More Women Emerge As Breadwinners

More Women Emerge As Breadwinners

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Men account for a staggering three out of four jobs lost in the current recession, according to a recent study by the Center for American Progress. So what happens when a women — who, in many situations, receives unequal pay doing the same jobs as men — becomes the sole breadwinner for a household? Guest host, Jennifer Ludden talks with Heather Boushey, of the Center for American Progress and Michael Kimmel, of Sociology at State University of New York, StonyBrook about the study, which looks at how families struggle to afford health care, housing and living expenses on a woman's salary and how men cope with their changing role.


Now we turn to an issue of economic equality. Men account for a staggering three out of every four jobs lost in this current recession. This means more households are relying on women to bring home the bacon. And that can mean an added economic burden. Here in our Washington studio to talk about this is Heather Boushey. She's a senior economist at the Center for American Progress and we're also joined by Michael Kimmel. He's a sociology professor at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. Welcome to you both.

Ms. HEATHER BOUSHEY (Senior Economist, Center for American Progress): Thank you. It's great to be here.

Professor MICHAEL KIMMEL (State University of New York): Nice to be here. Thanks, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: Heather, why are men absorbing the brunt of the job losses and is this different from previous recessions?

Ms. BOUSHEY: Well, this recession has been different because men have lost so many of the jobs. They've lost three out of four jobs since the recession began back in December of '07 and the reason is because nearly half the jobs that's been lost have been lost either in construction or manufacturing.

And these are places where men are the majority of employees. The industries which haven't seen job losses like health care are where women are the majority of employees.

LUDDEN: So what does it mean when it's the man in the household who loses his job?

Ms. BOUSHEY: Well, in the typical American family, if it's a married couple, he brings home about two-thirds of the family's income. So if he loses his job, the family loses that larger earnings. It's also more likely for the family to get their health insurance from his job rather than her job. So when he loses his job, they're likely to be losing the larger wage earner and they're likely to be losing their health insurance disproportionately relative to if the woman loses her job.

LUDDEN: So not only you lose that income - the larger income - you then have to shell out more for health insurance. Michael, what are the social implications if you have this new wave of out-of-work men being supported by their wives?

Mr. KIMMEL: Well, there's a couple of things about this. On the one hand, I mean, one of the ways in which this is certainly not the Great Depression or your father's Depression as it were, is that most of the men who are losing their jobs, their wives work. I mean, so it's not a single earner any longer, although in a way, as Heather mentions, they're certainly bringing home more than half of the, you know, the aggregate paycheck, so - and that's the other thing.

And the second thing is I don't see this big crisis of masculinity brewing as a result of this, partly because the way that this recession has been framed, every time we talk about the catastrophic numbers, the drops in manufacturing, there's also simultaneously, in the same article, the same news report, there's this discussion of recovery.

So everybody assumes that the recovery is coming soon. Everyone assumes that this is a temporary kind of episodic experience, not an existential one.

LUDDEN: Yeah. But, you know, my husband had a temporary episode where I was the breadwinner, and he didn't say much at the time, but I did find out afterwards it had an impact. I mean, it struck at his soul in a certain way when, you know, he couldn't - I had to give him spending money.

Mr. KIMMEL: Right. And this is - there is a sense that, you know, oh my gosh, I might - you know, this has to turn around. I have to find a job. I have to be able to do this in the future, but there is a general sense that it's going to happen.

LUDDEN: Heather, the figures that you have mentioned are for the entire population. I'm wondering if this, the job loss is mainly among men. Is there any difference by race or ethnicity?

Ms. BOUSHEY(ph): Well, what we've seen, you know, it is mostly among men, but unemployment, of course, has hit young workers, older workers harder. It's hit African-American and Hispanic families harder than white families, and it's hit workers with less education more so than workers with, you know, college or professional degrees. So it really is very disparate impacts, depending on the different groups.

LUDDEN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Heather Boushey and Michael Kimmel about how those losing jobs in this recession are disproportionately men.

Michael, you said that you think that the recovery will come around soon enough. I'm wondering, you know, given that a lot of the losses have been in industries, as Heather said, dominated by men, are those industries going to pick up, or do you think men will find jobs elsewhere?

Mr. KIMMEL: Well, it's a good question. I think both - it's not an either-or. Both are true. The first thing I would say is while this is not the most gendered economic downturn we've ever had. Probably 90 percent of all the job losses in the Great Depression were jobs held by men, but that was a very different era.

It is true that, you know, as you said, 75 percent of all the job losses have been jobs by men, but is this not also the most gendered recovery that you've ever seen?

The whole stimulus package, or a very large part of the stimulus package, after all, are for shovel-ready jobs. Well, which gender do you think is holding the shovels? Which gender are going to be involved in all of the construction jobs, and all of the infrastructure redevelopment and rehabilitation that's supposed to be part of the recovery package?

It seems to me that both are true. It is absolutely the case that, you know, as Bruce Springsteen said, you know, the foreman says these jobs are going, boy, and they ain't coming back, and that's largely the case. On the other hand, there is going to be a dramatic government-sponsored stimulus to heavy industry, manufacturing and construction that will be largely filled by men.

LUDDEN: Well, Heather, you've written also that their job losses haven't stopped, and in fact, we may see more state and local governments cut jobs, and that would hit at…

Ms. BOUSHEY: That would hit at women. I mean, I think one of the things that we've seen is that because we've had continued gains in employment and health care, and we haven't seen the kind of job losses in education or in government that we've seen among other industries, women's jobs have been preserved so far.

However, coming down the pipeline, we're seeing large budget cuts at the state and local level. You know, a lot of tax revenues are falling both because of unemployment but also because of the collapse of the housing bubble. And that's going to disproportionately impact women's jobs moving forward. And so, that's certain something to be watching for.

You know, the stimulus package did spent a lot of money on those shovel-ready projects, but actually, most of the money is going to tax cuts or is going to aid to the states. And that will certainly help preserve women's jobs, hopefully, moving forward.

LUDDEN: Well, if at this point, more men - it's more men who are leaving the labor force, I'm wondering if there might be some supply-and-demand effect where we could see women's wages, which traditionally lag, if we could see them increase.

Ms. BOUSHEY: Perhaps. I think more likely, we're going to see men, especially unemployed men, who are having to retool or re-transition to a new kind of job, entering some of those more traditionally female occupations like nursing or education or jobs that they haven't held in such large numbers before.

But that's an optimistic scenario. You know, it's worth noting that the period in time where we saw the biggest narrowing of the gender pay gap was when men's wages fell during the 1980s. We are likely to see that again.

LUDDEN: Michael, what about men going into nursing and other traditionally female industries?

Mr. KIMMEL: Well, you know, certainly men have always gone where the jobs are, and if that's where the - and I think Heather's right that it may be the case that the first wave of great job losses have been in manufacturing and construction and heavy industry, and the second wave may be in administrative, clerical, sales, sort of jobs held by women in state and local governments, for example. But I think men have always gone into - you know, gone where the jobs are. And so, if there are job openings, as we also know from the stimulus package, in education and health care, then more men are going to be entering in those positions at lower levels.

I think that Heather's right that they will be entering at lower wage levels than they exited, and that does mean that the wage gap will shrink, but not because men - you know, because all the boats are rising, but rather, the gap between the men's wages and women's wages will be, you know, declining as men's wages go down.

LUDDEN: Michael, you're a sociologist. I'm wondering if you see some positive side, a silver lining, if you will, to this phenomenon of mainly men losing jobs thus far.

Mr. KIMMEL: Well, it's hard to say that there's, you know, that there's a positive outcome for all this job loss. And certainly, and I don't think that we see any colossal redefinition, deliberate redefinition of the ideology of masculinity based on this. But I do think that the major impact in families across the country is that everybody assumes that women and men will be working outside the home, and that is going to be a - you know, the assumption, not just the question whether or not she should work but the ideology that - you know, my students, for example, traditionally aged college students, they assume both partners are going to work outside the home. They assume that the old, 1950's model or their grandfather's, you know, Depression model is not going to hold for them.

LUDDEN: Heather, very quickly, any silver lining to this trend of men losing most of the jobs?

Ms. BOUSHEY: Well, I think it's making families re-evaluate, you know, whose job is more important and how they're going to, together, make ends meet.

LUDDEN: Economist Heather Boushey is with the Center for American Progress. We also hear from Professor Michael Kimmel, who was very kind and interrupted his vacation to join us by phone from Massachusetts. Thanks to both of you.

Mr. KIMMEL: Thank you, Jennifer.

(Soundbite of music)

LUDDEN: The American Heart Association says the American sweet tooth is putting our health in danger. So how do we teach the next generation more-healthy eating habits?

Mr. TONY GERACI (Director Food services, Baltimore Public Schools): Until, you know, a kid gets a chance to pluck a little cherry tomato off the vine that's still warm from the summer sun and plop it in their mouth, and that flavor explodes, that's something you cannot teach in a book.

LUDDEN: Teaching kids about the benefits and treats of healthy eating. That's just ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Jennifer Ludden.

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