17 March 2012

Women Are Marginal Labor

First, here’s this:

She is far from alone, according to a new study from the Federal Reserve, due to be published shortly.
It shows that between 1993 and 2006, there was a decline in the workforce of 0.1 percent a year on average in the number of college-educated women, with similarly educated spouses.
That contrasts with growth of 2.4 percent a year between 1976 and 1992.
The result: the labor force in 2008 had 1.64 million fewer such women than if the growth rate had kept up its earlier trend, slightly more than 1 percent of the total workforce in that year.

Then there’s this:*

I have commented on these job losses a few times before, so this time around I want to highlight the gender dynamics a bit. These cuts to state and local government workforces, while a significant drag on the economy as a whole, are particularly damaging for women. In 2011, women made up 46.6 percent of the overall labor force, but among state and local workers, about 60 percent are women. Because women are so disproportionately represented in state and local jobs, they also have taken the brunt of the job losses in state and local governments. Of the net change in total state and local employment between 2007 and 2011—a decline of roughly 765,000 jobs—70 percent of the drop is from female employees. Today, there are about 540,000 fewer women in state and local jobs than in 2007, compared with about 225,000 fewer men.

The first thing to note is that women are not as indispensable to the workforce as is generally supposed.  The first story tells us that the economy grows just fine without them, since GDP increased from $6.6 trillion to $9.9 trillion (in constant 1993 dollars) from 1993 to 2008** in spite of there being 1.64 trillion fewer female participants in the labor force.

Now, it is possible that nominal GDP would have grown in the event of greater female labor participation, but this hypothetical occurrence could potentially be due to the fact that it is easier to record the contributions to GDP in the event of increased formal channels of production.  For example, there really is no way to calculate, say, how much a SAHM’s completion of household chores contributes to GDP, while one can calculate the costs of formally recognized cleaning agencies.  This is to say that a SAHM’s economic contributions are not—and indeed cannot be—generally accounted for in the official measurements of GDP, while a SAHM’s replacement goods and services (say, pre-cooked meals or day care) can be accounted for.  As such, any potential growth in nominal GDP that might result as a result of hypothetically increasing the labor participation rate of women might occur simply because the contributions can now be officially measured.

The second thing to note is that women take disproportionately economically damaging jobs.  Government bureaucracies impose economic inefficiency on citizens.  At the most basic level, this accomplished merely by taxation.  At more advanced levels, some economic inefficiencies take the form of asinine regulations that must be met.  If the government does provide some desirable services (I would argue for education and criminal investigations and prosecutions), it is likely that these services could be performed more efficiently on the free market, away from the coercion of taxes.  On the other hand, the government may provide some services that aren’t desirable at all, like issuing driver’s licenses, in which case the loss imposed by this economic inefficiency is simply revealed in its direct costs. Additionally, the government may impose some counterproductive services, like regulation, that not only impose direct costs on taxpayers (which is one form of inefficiency) but also indirect cost via increased consumption costs (which is another form of inefficiency).

That there are a disproportionate number of women that work in government jobs, it is highly likely that, in the aggregate, women impose significant economic costs by their employment.  Since they work so many government jobs, relatively speaking, eliminating their jobs would lead to either more efficient outcomes through privatization or the elimination of wasteful or counterproductive spending.  Remember, regulations and vast government services are luxury goods, which makes them marginal items, not the foundation of society.  Thus, eliminating women from government jobs frees up the economy to do things that are more productive.

When all is said and done, it would appear that the feminists’ press for gender equality in the workforce is nothing more than a steaming pile of bovine fecal matter.  Women are not needed for economic growth, and in many cases their presence in the workforce hinders it.  As such, the call for increasing women’s presence in workforce seems a little forced, and not particularly well thought-out.  Perhaps it’s time we encourage women to leave.

* On a completely tangential note, can you tell which of the two excerpts was written by a journalist and which one was written by an academic?

** Figures derived by going to Google’s Public Data and the BLS’s Inflation Calculator.


  1. I'm sure there are plenty of women who would do better raising their kids than working, especially government jobs. But there are other jobs they'll always be needed in, like the medical, teaching, missionary, evangelical, counseling, etc fields.

  2. @Jennifer- I didn't mean to imply that no women should ever hold a job; I simply meant that most women are marginal laborers, and thus unnecessary. Incidentally, some of the jobs, particularly missionary, are jobs that won't show in GDP measurements.

  3. Good post Simon.

    I've never agreed with the technique of counting government-sector "production" as part of GNP, when at best such production is a burden on the economy in all the ways that you list...both direct (consumption of tax monies) and indirect (compliance burden).

  4. Any guesses which gender makes up the bulk of those people who "dropped out of the work force"? I cannot imagine that most men can afford to just stop looking for work. But any woman who is married to a working man can.

  5. See chapter 5 of this book


    If i recall correctly, it mentions how every job men can do but not every job women can do such as those requiring physical strength. Women are not needed in the fields jen suggests as men can do all those jobs just fine. Women influence in these fields may be
    nice, but not necessary and is a

  6. Did you notice that, when men were losing jobs, it was cause for celebration? Why we had the mancession, baby! Women were in lines of work that weren't affected by the economy. Now that women are losing jobs at the state & local levels of gov't, it's different; waaaahhhhh, women are losing all the jobs-waaaaahhhh!

  7. Thanks for clarifying Simon; you didn't imply that, I just wanted to clarify my own feelings. I had no idea so many women held government jobs and find this an interesting article.

    No Laura, they are needed. Women have always been naturals at things like helping each other with health issues and delivering babies; fields such as these, regular nursing and SANE nurses (specially trained nurses to attend to rape victims) and counselors are vital for the women they help, not mere luxuries.

  8. Arguably, some regulations of an economy are necessary because they keep the economic system from political or monetary collapse.

    Thus, I'm not sure, but your assumption that all regulation of an economy is a burden seems simplistic.

  9. At the university where I teach, all of the "administrative assistant" (what used to be called "secretary") and HR positions are filled by women. Due to budget woes about half of these positions were cut over the last few years. Result? Nothing. Work goes on EXACTLY AS IT DID BEFORE. Draw your own conclusions.

  10. @EW- Thanks. I'm more inclined to take umbrage with counting government spending as equally valuable to private spending even though the government is provably less efficient.

    @Prof. Hale- It must be nice to not *have* to look for work, especially in a recession.

    @Laura- Technically, the men aren't needed in these jobs either (see: the Austrian theory of subjective value). That said, there are some fields where women are less marginal than men, mostly in the fields Jennifer states.

    @MarkyMark- It's amazing how things change once the shoe is on the other foot, isn't it?

    @Jennifer- Value is subjective, and so therefore there is no job that is needed, and therefore there is no one person or gender that needs to fill a job. The better point of comparison is that of marginal utility. By this metric, there are some jobs where women have more marginal utility than men. However, neither gender is needed in any imperative sense.

    @Clarence- To make sure we're not talking past each other, I would like to point out that I differentiate between laws and regulations. The former refers to codified rules and legal doctrines that enforce the negative view of personal rights. The latter refers to every other basis of actionable governmental interference into private citizens' lives. You will thus need to either retract your initial assertion or demonstrate some regulation that would prevent collapse.

    Also, it is tautological, not assumed, that regulation is an economic burden for the very simple fact that the enforcement of regulations implies that no one would voluntarily apply such regulations to themselves, thus suggesting that the value derived from regulatory is generally lower than its costs.

    @Southern Man- My conclusion would be that secretarial and HR positions are likely higher-order status symbols used by your university to demonstrate its higher position.