Today's NYT has a front-pager on the gender gap in layoffs. Apparently, some 82 percent of recent job losses have fallen on men, with the result being that women are now poised to become the majority of the workforce for the first time ever. This isn't particularly suprising when you consider that men hold the bulk of jobs in the blue-collar industries (manufacturing, construction) being squeezed tightest in this downturn. But the piece raises a couple of broad cultural questions for me:
What impact will this have on the state of American matrimony? Will bitter men being supported by their wives and stressed-out wives struggling to do the supporting wind up at each other's throats and in divorce court? Alternatively, will there emerge a gender-inverted picture of how things used to be, when women couldn't afford to leave their husbands and so stayed in even bad marriages? Or will everyone swiftly and smoothly adjust?
Along these same lines, will there be a shift in domestic roles? e.g., Will there stop being a stigma attached to dads who stay home or work part-time and serve as primary caregivers--even among macho, blue-collar types?
With women copmrising the majority of the workforce as well as the electorate, will there be any legislative efforts to address the changes in the workplace (beyond the Lily Ledbetter Pay Act, that is)--and if so, what should those be?
Then again, maybe nothing will change on the job--except perhaps that the pay gap gets closed in the wrong direction. By this I mean that many of the jobs that the men are currently losing are of the unionized, well-paying, good-benefits variety that has contributed to the disparity between what women as a whole get paid and what men do. (Pink-collar jobs tend to be lower-paying, part-time, non-unionized, etc.) But if these jobs are disappearing, many of them never to return again, it may be that the replacement jobs these men eventually find will not be as financially rewarding. How depressingly ironic if men and women wind up earning closer to the same amount because men too could no longer find well-paying jobs.