MN women faring better job-wise. Could education be the key?

We reported recently on a fascinating study showing Minnesota women doing a lot better than men when it comes to unemployment. What explains it? Here’s one theory: education.

I started thinking about that this morning listening to Steve Hine, director of labor market information at the state Labor Department, on Midday today. Hine said:

There’s something about the women in Minnesota that are keeping them from the ranks of unemployed to a greater extent than nationally. (He noted Minnesota’s female jobless rate barely changed over the past year while it leaped nationally.)

It’s not the case that Minnesota women are dropping out of the labor force. Their participation rate continues to be very high…they really are getting re-employed much more readily than men.

Hine said the department will explore why in upcoming research. Could be that many women are part-time workers, a group that’s fared better in the recession. “We’re also looking at educational attainment.”

That was an “Aha!” moment for me.

A few years ago, we saw a sea change in Minnesota: Women outnumbering men in college at all levels.

For the first time, women earned the majority of college degrees and other post-high school academic credentials in each category tracked by the state Office of Higher Education. Minnesota women were also outpacing women nationally in degrees earned, particularly master’s degrees.

And if you examine the fields of study by gender in Minnesota in 2005-06, it’s almost a blueprint for a gender gap recession.

The state Higher Ed office noted:

Women at all levels of study completed programs in health care clinical fields and education at rates far exceeding men. Men completed awards in construction trades, mechanical and repair technology, precision production, security and protective services and engineering technology, none of which appeared among the top five programs completed by women.

Guess what: The most recent Minnesota jobless report found only two sectors continuing to show job gains over the past year: Education & Health Services, up 16,200 jobs and government, up 2,500 jobs.

Education and health services are sectors dominated by women.

It’s a complex issue. But when we look back we may find it had an easy answer: Women came to college in greater numbers than men when times were good and made better choices on what to study.

UPDATE: Teri Fritsma, the study’s author, offers some theories she’ll be exploring in the next phase of the research.

Perhaps Minnesota women who are laid off are more likely to find employment immediately rather than remain unemployed for a spell. It could be that women are losing their jobs here, but are quicker to transfer into another job, thus preventing them from showing up in the unemployment numbers.

Perhaps Minnesota women are more likely to work part-time and thus somewhat more insulated from layoffs. (There is some evidence that MN women are more likely to work part-time than women nationally, but I don’t yet know if that’s related to their risk of unemployment).

It’s possible that Minnesota women’s educational attainment is higher than the nation’s, and therefore they’re more insulated from layoffs.

It could also be a bit of statistical noise. The sample size for MN (and all states) is fairly small, so there’s more sampling error. Since I looked at the data over several months, I know this can’t be the whole reason for the discrepancy, but it could explain part of it.

Tell me what you think. Post below or use this form to tell me what you’re seeing re: women and the employment market.

And check the map below for stories people in our Public Insight Network are telling us about the job climate in Minnesota.

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