Labor shortage expected in traditional male fields

March 06, 1992|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Male, educated and unemployed? Hang in there. The 1990s could yet be your decade.

It may seem surprising in these days of repeated rejection letters, widespread industrial downsizing and enduring economic gloom, but a shortage of educated males is expected to develop during this decade.

While the work force will grow 20.1 percent by 2005, demand for executives will expand by 27 percent, professional and specialist jobs will be up 32 percent, and technical positions will increase 37 percent, according to government statistics. Traditionally, these have been male-dominated areas.

Two other factors help create a shortage of educated males:

* The end of the baby boom, so fewer workers -- male and female -- will be entering the labor pool this decade than in the previous three, with the number of new workers ages 20 to 24 and most likely to be graduates down from 15.7 million in 1985 to 13 million in 1997.

* A dramatic slowdown in the growth rate of women entering the jobs market.

The fastest-growing professional sectors in the 1990s, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects, will be computers, health care and education.

The Bureau's list includes systems analysts, computer scientists, occupational and physio-therapists, operations research analysts, psychologists, computer programmers, marketing, advertising and public relations, general managers, school teachers, accountants and lawyers.

In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the labor force grew faster than the working-age population, largely because of the tremendous increase in the number of working women.

"Basically, what we had was a tremendous surge in labor force participation associated with the liberation of women from their traditional roles," said Robert D. Reischauer, director of the Congressional Budget Office.

Women's participation in the work force grew at an annual rate of 2.8 percent between 1975 and 1990, Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show; between 1990 and 2005, the percentage is expected to be 1.6 percent. But more women (14.8 million) than men (11.1 million) will be joining the labor force. This will take the number of women workers from 56.5 million, 45.3 percent of the work force, in 1990, to 71.3 million, 47.4 percent of the work force, in 2005.

"It reaches the point of diminishing returns with a smaller and smaller pool of women left over making that choice" to join the work force, said Mike Hillard, a University of Southern Maine economist.

Karla Scherer, founder of a foundation in Detroit that grants scholarships to women seeking business careers, said: "I have heard, and it alarms me, that some women are retreating into the home -- women who are highly educated.

"They are an expensive commodity. They are an asset. We can't afford for that to happen."

Maggie Palmer, an organizational psychologist with the women's studies department at the University of Southern Maine, said women were leaving the corporate world in significant numbers, but not the workplace.

Her studies convinced her that many women were starting their own businesses rather than returning home.

"They are just learning how to create for themselves in a system that has not supported them," she added.

Over the period to 2005 the overall work force and job creation both are expected to expand at the same rate of 1.3 percent annually. The supply-demand imbalance is expected at the job spectrum's higher end, which men still dominate.

The male work force grew at an annual rate of 1.3 percent from 1975 to 1990, but will expand at only 1 percent yearly until 2005.

"While there is some falloff there, there is not the spectacular falloff as is the case for women," said Howard Hayghe, a Bureau of Labor Statistics analyst.

By 2005, male workers will total 79.3 million, against 68.2 million in 1990.

The men's share of the work force will shrink over the 15 years from 54.7 percent to 52.6 percent.

"Because the baby boom was followed by a baby bust you are going to see a larger outflow [from the work force] than inflow," said Mr. Hayghe, noting that his own 1946 baby-boom birth date would make him eligible to retire in 2005.

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