Why are men more likely to be sacked than women?

Last week’s labour mobility data showed that men are more likely to be sacked than women. Admittedly, with overall retrenchment rates so low, it is not a huge difference in absolute terms – 2.4% compared to 1.9%. But relatively, men are noticeably more vulnerable. I haven’t gone back to calculate the differences over all the years of the job mobility survey, but the same pattern was there in the first survey in 1972 (3%/2.1%) and in 1984 (4.9%/4%).

The Melbourne Institute report on the HILDA survey saw this result in their data too and tried to work out why. After controlling for various factors including educational attainment, industry, and being casual or part-time they found that, while the gap narrowed, being female still conferred an employment security advantage. Women’s greater job security was also reflected in their subjective perceptions of how safe their jobs were. So women’s rising employment share over time could go some small way to explaining the good results on job security that we currently see.

But it still doesn’t explain why women are less likely to be fired than men. The Melbourne Institute report speculates that perhaps women are less likely to cause trouble at work than men. My experience is generally the opposite – they seem more likely to fight among themselves – but since my uni days I’ve only had office jobs, and perhaps the social skills (or lack thereof) of blue collar males land them in trouble.

Another suggestion in the Melbourne Institute report is that employers, who tend to be male, feel less comfortable sacking women than men. Perhaps there is some residual code of the gentleman at play. Or perhaps they fear the waterworks that may follow the giving of notice.

Their third suggestion, and the one I found most convincing, is that because more men than woman are in the labour force there is a selection effect, so that males of limited competence are more likely to be in the workforce than similarly competence-deprived women. With a larger pool of men than women likely to be sacked for stuffing up, it follows that more of them will in fact be shown the door.

These are not mutually exclusive possibilities. I will be interested to hear if readers (including lurkers) have any other ideas.

10 thoughts on “Why are men more likely to be sacked than women?

  1. One possibility is that, due to family commitments there is a higher natural turnover of women employees so downsizing and the like can be more easily accommodated through natural attrition than is the case with men.

    Another possibility is that the phenomenon primarily reflects sacking rate differences by industry. Suppose that an industry such as vehicle component manufacture primarily employed men, and an industry such as primary school teaching primarily employed women. If the sacking rate in the former is higher than in the latter, it would be reflected in gender statistics but would not be primarily due to gender.

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  2. Mike – The HILDA study controlled for industry, but natural attrition could be part of it. I will check to see if there are differences in voluntary turnover.

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  3. Andrew – There’s some support for the second hypothesis in the US literature.

    Sandra McKay and Uday Tate looked at how students believed a salesperson’s gender affected evaluations of their performance. They found that “students strongly believe that supervisors would be more willing to fire males than females for low performance.”

    But there’s a flipside : “students thought that supervisors would more readily promote males over feales with identical performances.”

    The paper has citations to some related research.

    ‘Student attitudes regarding gender bias in performance evaluations of salespeople’ Journal of Business and Psychology, Vol 16, No 2 Winter 2001.

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  4. Could it have to do with crime, loss of employability due to drug abuse etc – I’m guessing that more males go to gaol, and lose their jobs, than females. The lifestyles of young males might be more less endearing to employers – my car mechanic has ceased to employ young blokes because they just don’t reliably turn up on Mondays – too much partying on the weekends.
    Male pride? in that men perhaps feel more confident in asserting themselves, and feel more confident in being able to find another job – – making less of an effort to “fit in” ?
    Are men in the kind of work where accidents are more common and employers find ways of sacking the ones on compo ?

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  5. These are just my own observances from Office dynamics, not a scientific analysis:

    1. Females have a standing excuse that can explain away any absence (female reproductive health problems). No manager, male or female, is going to want to see proof of it.

    2. As Russell said, males are more likely to turn up late after partying etc.

    3. Males are more likely to tell the boss to fuck off when they get angry, whereas a female response would be to cry. Bosses don’t tend to sack people who burst into tears, but they do sack people who challenge their authority.

    4. Males have different work ethics than females. If you give a male and a female a day to complete the same task that would take 6 hours on average, the male is more likely to complete the task as quickly as possible, and spend the remaining 4 hours of the day bludging. The female is more likely to stretch the task out into the 8 hours alloted.

    However from the Boss’ point of view, if he comes after lunch to see the male playing Solitaire and the female still busily working, this makes the male look bad even though he has completed the same task in less time.

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  6. Mike – Voluntary job departure rates were 12% for men and 14.3% for women, consistent with your suggestion.

    Don – Thanks for the tip, I will check it out.

    Russell – I don’t think the ABS surveys people in jails, so they won’t be caught (so to speak) in this data, but ‘attitude’ more generally could I think have something to do with it.

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  7. I haven’t looked at the figures in recent times but males used to be much older on average.

    Given Employer’s irrational belief that older workers are harder to train, have lower productivity etc and the nil value they put on corporate knowledge and history I am not surprised by this.

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  8. then it has changed quite a bit.

    Perhaps the fact males are more likely to be f/t and females p/t so employers who sack males gain more flexibility within their labour force.

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