What Is a Mancession?

A mancession is when the rise in unemployment or other negative effects of a recession have a disparate impact on men versus women. The characteristic pattern of a recession, long-term structural and technological change, and social trends all play a role in the occurrence of a mancession. The term was originally coined during the Great Recession, though the historical norm for U.S. business cycles is for men to suffer the brunt of the job losses and other direct economic fallout of recessions.

Key Takeaways

  • A mancession is when job losses in a recession disproportionately fall on men rather than women, especially in reference to the Great Recession.
  • Recessions normally have a greater impact on male employment over the past 50 years, while female workforce participation and employment has increased in the same period.
  • This trend is partly but not entirely explained by differences in employment, career, and occupational choice by men and women combined with the different impact of recessions across different industries.

Understanding Mancession

When the financial crisis struck the U.S. in 2007 and a two-year recession ensued, 78% of the jobs lost were held by men, and the percentage of unemployed males nearly doubled, according to the Federal Reserve. The unemployment rate for men rose from 4.9% to 8.9%, while the rate for women rose by only half as much, from 4.7% to 7.2%. Coined by an economist from the University of Michigan, this period known as a "mancession" resulted in the biggest gap (as high as 2.5%) between unemployed men and women since World War II.

To some extent, this is normal. Since the recession of 1969, the larger share of job losses during recessions have fallen on men. Male employment fell by an average of 3.1% during the five recessions experienced during the period between 1969 and 1991, compared to an average employment rise of 0.3% for women. In the 2001 recession, men accounted for 78% of job losses, equivalent to the Great Recession. So the mancession following the financial crisis of 2008 was simply the peak (so far) of a long-term trend.

Analysts have tried to understand the mancession phenomenon and have offered a few possible reasons. Recessions tend to follow broadly similar patterns, but they often also occur with unique individual characteristics based on the circumstances; some industries are harder hit than others in any given recession. Because men and women often prefer to work in different industries and types of jobs, they are affected differently. 

Following a near decade-long housing boom, the Great Recession heavily impacted the housing construction industry, along with manufacturing. The majority of jobs that were initially cut were in these male-dominated industries, accounting for 2.5 million layoffs and leading to disproportionate levels of joblessness among males. The fact that women both historically and at the time often worked in industries less affected by cyclical change in the economy, such as hospitality, education, childcare, and healthcare, also contributed to the widening gap. 

Also, at the time it was reported that women in the United States accounted for nearly 60% of the college degrees handed out during that period, meaning that a greater number of women were working white-collar jobs, especially in publicly-funded industries such as education and healthcare, which saw far fewer cutbacks than male-dominated industries. 

However, these effects do not fully explain the disparity, because even within the same industries men tended to be more heavily hit than women. Also, similar patterns occurred outside construction and manufacturing. In the service sector, male employment dropped 3.1% versus 0.7% for women, a similar proportion as the overall economy.