Sunday, May 15, 2011

Labor Force: More Musings

When the subject of male and female participation in the workforce arises, demographics tend to be ignored. Thus it turns out that participation in the workforce tends to be understated for women and overstated for men. What do I mean?

Females naturally outnumber men, but the workforce numbers are percentages of men or of women in the workforce calculated separately. In 2010, for instance, 61.99 million men were in the 25-54 age range, and 55.33 million were in the workforce; this produces the 89.3 percent male workforce participation. In that same year, the female population of the same age was 63.31 million, those in the workforce 47.61 million, and the rate was 75.2 percent participation. But if we ask, instead, how many men were in the workforce for every woman, the answer turns out that for every 10 men, 9 women labored alongside. Another way to put it is that 53.7 percent of the actual workforce at age 25-54 (102.9 million) was male, and 46.3 percent was female. In 1950 for ever 10 men at work only 4 women were required to make a go of things collectively.

What strikes me here is that that the natural (birth-based) proportion of males and females is 49 and 51 percent respectively. In 2010, both sexes were within 4.7 percent of their natural share, males 4.7 above, females 4.7 percent below. Very interesting datum! The bars are converging, folks!

Now it is said, nostalgically by some, that in the good-old-days (by which they must mean the 1950s) a man could make a living for his family all by himself. That’s obviously not statistically true if we believe Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. But the 1950 proportions at least lean in that direction. We know well from history that some women always have had to fend for themselves, hence we have the word “spinster,” which once meant a woman who, without a husband, supported herself by spinning.

The by-gone ideal used to be never to labor for wages—but on your own land. But if laboring had to be done, it had best be done by the male, in dire circumstances by the woman, in the absolutely worst case by the children. From this I construct a hierarchy of economic degradation: self-supporting, wage-laboring, female-laboring, child-laboring. My bar graph therefore indicates the middle ground here somewhere, heading downward. But that’s industrialization, isn’t it?

It’s very striking that our economy absolutely demands—what with that 10:9 ratio—that women be out there working. A tiny handful, of course, are executive vice presidents, etc., but the great bulk actually labor rather than kicking ass.

It is a marvel and a mystery that in the name of wealth we’ve managed to work ourselves, pun intended, into a situation where females have no choice but to labor so that, in their ample free time, they can enjoy the great wealth of products and services that spell freedom from labor. And never mind that far too many can’t actually enjoy that wealth, because that little extra women used to go to work to earn has become necessity. And never mind that, now, now that they are working, men no longer cleave to them—so that the single-parent household, overwhelmingly female-headed, is one of the fastest-growing household categories. There were 10.6 million such households in 2007, growing at 2.1 percent a year since 1980, versus population growth in that same period of 1 percent. They held 28.8 percent of all households with children in 2007. Astounding. And, by the way, there is something we can all do. The traditional action is to take care of one’s own when the culture’s mindless axe descends.

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