Job Loss and Unemployment: Differing Social and Economic Costs

Project: Research project

Project Details



Sarah A. Damaske

Pennsylvania State University, University Park

Studies of gender differences in experiences of job loss are almost entirely absent in academic research, but the Great Recession of 2007-2009 raised questions about differences in men's and women's job loss experiences. The Great Recession was popularly dubbed a 'man-cession' by media outlets, because, initially, men's job losses were twice as large as women's. Although men lost more jobs than women did, women experienced greater job loss after the 'conclusion' of the recession and, at first, recovered jobs at a slower rate than men. Moreover, women reported greater material hardship than men in the wake of the Great Recession. The aim of this study is to determine whether job loss and its effects are experienced differently across gender, and, if so, how. The primary data for this study will come from 100 qualitative interviews. Qualitative interviews will be conducted with 100 men and women (50 each) who experienced the loss of a full-time job between the years 2007-2014. The project will identify men and women who are married or partnered, between the ages of 28 to 55 (those often termed 'Generation X'), and live with a child under the age of 18. These qualitative interviews will allow for an in-depth investigation of how job loss affects men?s and women?s work pathways, their perceptions of the workforce, their labor force attachment, and their attitudes and beliefs about their household labor.

This project will address three main interrelated research questions: 1. After job loss, do structural barriers to work differentially influence men's and women's job search and their job search success? Theories of employment that look at the 'demand side', i.e. the needs of hiring organizations, point to women's and men's likelihood to occupy different types of jobs and the continued wage gap between women and men as deterrents to women's paid employment. These factors may influence unemployment. 2. After job loss, do labor force attachment levels and gender attitudes about work-family responsibilities differentially influence men's and women's likelihood to start a job search? 'Supply side' theories of employment, i.e. explanations focused on the employees, point to differences in labor force attachment and work-family responsibilities to explain differences in women's and men's paid employment. These factors may also influence unemployment. 3. Do experiences of job loss differ across gender, class and race? Intersectional theories contend that race, class, and gender intersect to shape experiences of employment, suggesting that unemployment will also vary across gender, class and race. This project will investigate if and how all of these factors shape men's and women's experiences of job loss and unemployment. Moreover, while theories explaining gender differences in employment may hold true to unemployment experiences, unemployment is a volatile experience that may uniquely disrupt a person's interaction with the labor market and change the meaning of and motivation for work, thus, a detailed study of this process is necessary.

Job loss and unemployment continue to be one of the most pressing issues in the United States: unemployment remains high and more than 4 million Americans have been out of work for six months or longer (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2013). The project adds gender to current research of job loss and unemployment--an important addition given that women experience unemployment at roughly the same rates as men yet are vastly understudied. By examining the processes through which men and women move into and out of the labor market, this project will differentiate routes that are more successful from those that lead to continued unemployment or to dropping out of the workforce. This will lead to policy suggestions that can be more closely tailored to improve men's and women's life chances in 21st century post-industrial economies.

Effective start/end date5/15/144/30/17


  • National Science Foundation: $151,478.00


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