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Gender Equality

Men "hit harder than women by unemployment during recession"

Two new studies from the ESRI look at gender and the impact of the recession on work and finances.

THE RECESSION SAW men being hit harder by unemployment than women.

That’s according to two new studies that look at the impact the financial downturn had on Ireland over the past number of years.

The first study – Gender and the Quality of Work: From Boom to Recession looks at what the implications of the current recession in Ireland are for gender equality in the labour market.

Some of its main findings are:

  • Over the recession there has been a ‘levelling down’, in male and female employment rates.  Men’s employment fell more sharply than women’s.
  • The recession brought the long-term rise in female participation rates to an end – female participation rates declined by 1.4 per cent from 2007 to 2012.
  • Men’s participation rates fell more steeply, bringing the gender gap in participation to an all-time low of 14 percentage points in 2012.
  • Unemployment rates increased sharply for both sexes; however, they rose particularly dramatically for males.
  • Sex-segregation played a significant role in these outcomes. Employment contraction was most severe in the construction sector which accounted for less than 2 per cent of female employment.
  • Women’s over-representation in the health and the education sectors “sheltered them from job losses as both sectors continued to expand through the recessionary period”. Women’s concentration in the public sector also protected them from job loss.

Changes in the Quality of Work

The study also analysed quality of work, taking in surveys that were carried out pre- and post the onset of recession.

  • In 2007, fewer than three per cent of employed men and women worked part-time because they could not find a full-time job, but by the end of 2012 more than 11 per cent of employed women and 7 per cent of employed men did.
  • In 2010, over one-quarter of Irish workers feared that they would lose their jobs in the next six months.
  • Male employees were more likely than female employees to report that their job security had decreased in the preceding two years (37 per cent v 41 per cent). This was due to men working in more insecure sectors (eg construction).
  • Job control increased for men between 2003 and 2009. This change appears to be due to the loss of less skilled jobs in certain sectors. For women job control declined, leading to a wider gender gap in job control in 2009 than in 2003.
  • Pre-recession work pressure was lower for women than men, but rose more rapidly for women between 2003 and 2009. In the later period, women’s pressure was higher than men’s.

Household finance, disability, and labour market

A second study, Winners and Losers? The Equality Impact of the Great Recession in Ireland looked at which groups experienced the greatest changes in their labour market fortunes and their household financial situation in the recession.

Report author Dr Frances McGinnity said:

There are no clear ‘winners’ in this report: we find rising unemployment and deprivation across the population. However significant inequalities between groups existed in Irish society before the recession, and to a large extent these persist, though some groups certainly lost more.

Key Findings

It found that unemployment rates of the youngest age groups were particularly badly affected.

  • For 20-24 year olds the modelled unemployment rate grew from 6 to 23 per cent between 2007 and 2012, significantly faster than for adults aged 35 to 44 (from 4 to 14 per cent).

Employment rates fell sharply for the under 25s, and also declined more sharply for those aged 25-34 than adults of the 35-54 age groups.

Over the period the rate of deprivation more than doubled across the population, from 11.8 to 24.5 per cent.

Among age groups:

  • In both 2007 and 2011 the highest net rates of deprivation were for children under 14 (32 per cent in 2011)
  • The deprivation rate was lowest for the over 65 age group in both years (11 per cent in 2011).


As found in the ‘Gender and the Quality of Work’ report, men were harder hit by unemployment than women.

Employment rates fell more for men than women, so the employment gap between men and women narrowed between 2007 and 2012.

The unemployment rate of East European and African nationals increased more than for Irish nationals.

In 2011 just under one third of the non-Irish nationals experienced basic deprivation compared to one quarter of Irish nationals.

In 2012, levels of unemployment were highest among never married lone parents (25 per cent), formerly married people without children (21 per cent) and those cohabiting with children (22 per cent).

In both 2007 and 2011 income poverty and basic deprivation were highest for never-married lone parents, while rates were similar for formerly-married lone parents.

Between 2007 and 2011 there was a narrowing in the income poverty differentials and deprivation gap between people with a disability and those without. But even in 2011, poverty and deprivation rates were substantially higher for those with a disability than those without.

Read: “Too often, women in media see a ‘Keep Out’ sign on the door of every serious discussion”>

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