In this comment on my thread on careers, marriage, and the gender imbalance in college education AprilPNW writes:
Just curious, since we’ve been discussing gender issues and work.
Has anyone come across any feminists/bloggers etc. decrying the gender imbalance of the 12 miners recently killed in the mining accident? After all – not a woman to found among them.
I’m not going to hold my breath, but I do frequently find that the holy grail of a 50/50, perfect gender balance in the workplace doesn’t look so appealing when dirty and dangerous jobs are considered.
If anyone knows anything about affirmative action in the mining industry, I’d love to hear about it. After all, are these not some of the highest paid jobs in the area?
Actually, I was going to post something about this, though I was a little hesitant to use a horrible tragedy as fodder for gender politics. But I do think that it serves as a grim reminder that being killed on the job is primarily a male risk. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, women now make up 46% of the workforce but account for only 8% of on-the-job fatalities. (The non-fatal injury rate for men is 76% higher than for women, and 90% higher for reportable injuries.)
This is one area that men’s rights advocates such as Warren Farrell often cite as evidence of hidden male disadvantage, and I think they have a point, even if they often cross the line into a male version of the victim mentality. The mine where the explosion took place reportedly had a deplorable record of safety violations and on-the-job injuries, and was still allowed to operate. If, in such circumstances, the tragedy had involved female-only casualties, it’s likely that there would have been an outcry about our society’s low regard for women’s lives. While Farrell’s claims that our society treats men as “disposable” are, in my view, greatly exaggerated, the attitude that it’s more acceptable to put men’s life and limb at risk certainly does exist.
And there is also a tendency to downplay or disregard the gender aspect of this problem facing men. The most egregious example I’ve ever seen was an October 3, 1993 New York Times story about a Department of Labor report on workplace fatalities. The story ran under the title, “High Murder Rate for Women on the Job: 40% of women killed at work are murdered, but figure for men is only 15%.” This woman-as-victim spin disguised the fact that, according to the data cited within the article, 93% of the 6,083 people who were killed on the job in 1992 were men. 848 men and 170 women were murdered at work. In fact, male victims of homicide on the job outnumbered all female on-the-job fatalities nearly two to one. And this translated into “High Murder Rate for Women on the Job.”
(Incidentally, in a critique of Warren Farrell on his blog, Thomas Volscho, a Ph. D. student in sociology at the University of Connecticut, uses a similar, more recent set of figures to make this assertion:
They [women] are also likely to be victims of violence, not only in their own homes, but in the workplace. A recent CDC report documents that homicides account for 11% of all occupational injury deaths among male workers, but for 42% of all occupational injury deaths among female workers. Men face a greater risk of violence in the workplace, but women are more likely to die from violence in the workplace.
Maybe the graduate sociology program at UConn ought to do a better job of teaching Ph.D. students how to count.)
Does the disproportionate presence of men in hazardous jobs partly account, as Farrell claims, for higher male earnings? Ampersand says no, citing a study that found no correlation between earnings and risk of fatal injury on the job; but apparently, these results change if agriculture is taken out of the equation, and agriculture is an industry that generally employs people with very few other options (including illegal immigrants). But that’s not my main point here.
It’s quite true that women who have gone into mining generally haven’t found a very welcoming reception from men, and have faced a lot of discrimination. Ironically, the first woman miner to be killed on the job, Marilyn McCusker, who perished in an accident in 1979, had gotten the job due to a sex discrimination suit she had filed in federal court.
But it’s also true that not a whole lot of women have been beating down the doors to take hazardous, dirty, physically arduous jobs, even when those job offer fairly high pay levels.
More: Today’s New York Times has a poignant story about the victims’ families that offers some insights into the miners’ culture.
No one wanted to face the loss of the men who were the linchpins of their families – the tough, wiry wage earners who awoke each day at dawn for their 6 a.m. shift. The men who died ranged in age from 28 to 61, but most were veteran miners in their 40’s and 50’s. They were the sons of miners, the brothers of miners, and by and large they married miners’ daughters. But they knew the danger of their work; at least two forbade their sons to take it up.
Martin Toler, 50, the crew boss, was the father of two and grandfather of four. Alva Martin Bennett, 50, worked in the mines for 30 years. Jim Bennett, 61, liked to sing in church. David Lewis, 28, stood out as the 6-foot-1 son of a dairy farmer. Terry Helms, 48, was a “fire boss” who monitored gas levels. The rest were identified by family members and news reports as Tom Anderson; George Hamner Jr.; Fred Ware Jr., 59; Jack Weaver, 52; Marshall Winans, 49; Mr. Groves; and Mr. Jones. The one survivor, Mr. McCloy, known as Skinny, was the youngest, at 27. He was in critical but stable condition Wednesday with a collapsed lung and kidney damage, a spokeswoman at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown said.
They were a stoic bunch, friends and relatives said.
“He never missed work,” said Terry Helms’s son, Nick. “He’d be sick as a dog and go into work. He worked double shifts. The day it happened he would have worked from 1:30 in the morning to 6 at night.”
Mr. Perry said his father, Roger Perry, was still mining despite an accident on the job when he was 16 that left him with a wooden leg. Roger Perry’s eyes were injured in Monday’s explosion, but he was among those who turned back to try to rescue the trapped miners, his son said. Owen Jones, too, was one of those who escaped the explosion, while his brother Jesse remained trapped inside. On a normal day, a third brother, Lyndon, would have been in the mines as well, but he was on sick leave.
“Up in this area, when we was graduating from high school, that’s what it was, was coal mines,” Lyndon Jones said.
Mr. Jones said the perils of mining were overstated. But his wife, Carry, disagreed. “I heard him say that,” she said dryly, taking the phone after he spoke with a reporter. Families worry about miners “every day,” she said.