Rethinking Healthcare

Why women are more resilient in the recession than men

Why women are more resilient in the recession than men

Posting in Technology

Stats like suicide rates show that the so-called weaker sex proves stronger in tough economy.

Another troubling side effect of the recession: heightened suicide rates. For every 10% increase in the number of unemployed men in the UK, there's a 1.4% increase in male suicide rates, researchers report in the British Medical Journal this month. However, women appear nearly immune to the trend.

Women as a group have historically been less prone to pair suicide with unemployment. The British researchers say these numbers suggest a greater degree of resilience in women than men.

A study from central Illinois suggests women may ride out the recession better than men because they're more flexible in looking for alternative jobs. The report looked particularly at migrant communities.

"Women appear to be more flexible and resourceful. When they lose their jobs, they start looking for other options," Gale Summerfield, a University of Illinois researcher said in a press release. "They took jobs in child care, cleaning houses and businesses, and cooking, jobs with less overhead. Men tended to look for jobs in gardening and auto mechanics that require tools. They didn't see cooking, cleaning or babysitting as a man's job."

But women who hold on to higher positions also appear more resilient than men.  A recent survey from the National Federation of Independent Business and the Center for Women's Business Research found that women-owned small businesses fared better than their male-owned counterparts during the recession. Nearly half of these female-headed businesses are now increasing their staff size. The survey attributes their resiliency to:

  • a focus on cost control
  • strategic targeting of customers
  • smart social media use
  • investments in outside help
  • visibility through community involvement
  • willingness to work longer hours

A 2009 survey from Bain & Company, a global business consulting firm, found that the poor economy may actually help women reach higher business leadership position. The survey suggested that "typical female strengths" such as flexibility and aptitude for collaboration are especially well-suited to a tough economy. Women may also be more likely to stay longer at a company during the recession due to instability in their male partner's employment, increasing the opportunities for their own advancement.

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Unfortunately, women's resiliency appears dependent on their family situation. TIME.com's Bonnie Rochman reports:

Married women with kids who lost their jobs between 2007 and 2009 had a 31% lower chance of finding a new job than married fathers with kids. But their alter-egos — single women without kids — were taking less time to find new jobs compared to similar men. In fact, single women who weren't moms had a 29% greater chance than single men without kids of finding a new job.

The recession may provide a platform for women to demonstrate their adaptive coping abilities, but that statistic regarding mothers suggests more work is needed to fully even the playing field for professional women.

Image: British Medical Journal

Thumbnail: Frank Kovalchek/Flickr

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Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure