Gender and job risk

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.

33 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

33 responses to “Gender and job risk

  1. Paul

    Somehow feminists addressing the number of women working in mines seems basically irrelevent in the wake of the tragedy in West Virginia.

  2. jw

    Men die in industrial accidents. A few people are proud of that, most do not care. Do not buy into the arguments of people who will do all manner of mental gymnastics to get around the above.

    Cathy Young said “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.”

    Yes, there would be an outcry over female deaths and there is no outcry over male deaths: Males are disposable and there are people who are proud of that.

    Cathy, I think that Farrell understates, not overstates, the size and scope of the problem.

  3. beenaround

    IMO, Farrell’s arguments with respect to males earning more than women because of dangerous jobs lack sophistication, and Ampersand has pointed out the flaw in Farrell’s argument. Unfortunately, Ampersand has his head in the sand as well.

    ISTM that you have to look at separate arguments that treat different halves of the bell curve differently based on underlying average differences between males and females.

    For very good biological reasons, males, on average are more willing to take risks than females. See for example: Staying Alive: Evolution, culture and women’s intra-sexual aggression where Anne Campbell argues from the opposite direction that women are less likely to take risks than men.

    So, it seems to me that less cognitively-able men are more prepared to take dangerous jobs because they are less sensitive to the risk and devalue the future and that is one of the few ways left to them to acquire resources. However, few dangerous jobs these days pay a premius because there is no shortage of cannon fodder. Supply and demand.

    However, more cognitively-able men gravitate towards jobs that involve information management where risk taking can reap large rewards …

    In the end, though, we are all just trying to get through this tragedy called life.

  4. Aprilpnw

    Another chilling, local reminder of male deaths on the job is a monument at the Fisherman’s Terminal, here in Seattle.

    A plaque placed at the bottom of a sculpture lists the names of the men that have died while deep sea fishing. I forget how many names are listed currently (way too many-and it includes only the men who were on ships that left from that terminal), but the plaque designer left ample room for dozens more names.

    Further, I’ve talked with a number of Seattlelites who would NEVER, NEVER touch farmed fish for various PC reasons. However, when I point out that the alternative is fish that someone could have DIED to put on your table, the response is usually a dismissive wave of the hand! Go figure.

  5. aprilpnw

    Intersting post in Slat’s “Fray” from an individual that grew up in a mining family. Also has links to profiles of the miners…

    http://fray.slate.com/?id=3936&m=16544471

  6. William R. Barker

    Two Words:

    SELECTIVE SERVICE.

    So much for “equality,” huh? (*SMIRK*)

  7. Cathy Young

    jw:

    Exactly who are you talking about who is “proud” of the fact that men die in industrial accidents?

    And are you seriously suggesting that there is no “outcry” over the fact that these miners have died? that their deaths are not regarded as a horrific tragedy?

    Their deaths are getting a lot of attention. What’s not getting any attention is the fact that they are male.

    And while on the one hand I think that the gender angle here is worth examining, I also can’t help thinking that we should paying less attention to gender when women suffer, not more attention to gender when men suffer. A human tragedy is a human tragedy.

  8. Revenant

    So, it seems to me that less cognitively-able men are more prepared to take dangerous jobs because they are less sensitive to the risk and devalue the future and that is one of the few ways left to them to acquire resources.

    It isn’t necessarily a matter of having no alternative but to gamble, though. Risk-taking is, in many cases, profitable on average.

    Think of, say, insurance. Is insurance a good buy? No, pretty much by definition it is not — the average person pays out more in insurance premiums than they ever receive in benefits. So taking the risk of not getting insurance is, on average, a risk that increases your personal wealth. The tradeoff, of course, is stability. People who have insurance don’t need to worry nearly as much about bad luck.

    From an evolutionary standpoint, the human race needs stability in women’s lives more than it does in men. Losing 5% of your women reduces your birthrate by 5%; losing 5% of the men doesn’t necessarily decrease the birthrate at all. So it may be that conservative thinking is selected for in women (for the greater chance of survival) while risk-taking is selected for in men (for the greater average level of wealth and success).

  9. vbspurs

    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.

    You mean like mining…

    (We lack the upper-body strength to cope with such backbreaking work, albeit I’m sure there must be SOME women miners)

    I had no idea, BTW, that mining jobs paid comparatively well for blue-collar jobs, a happy outcome of the reportage on the most unhappiest of stories this week.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

  10. mythago

    I wonder, given the culture of both the area and the mines, whether women who did try and beat down the doors would be welcome in with open arms, either by other miners or by management.

  11. Revenant

    I wonder, given the culture of both the area and the mines, whether women who did try and beat down the doors would be welcome in with open arms, either by other miners or by management.

    I’m not sure that there’s any culture in which existing workers welcome an influx of new workers.

  12. mythago

    revenant, as I’m sure you really did notice, the question is whether a bunch of women deciding to work in the mines would be treated exactly the same as a bunch of men ditto.

    And william, if you don’t like the law, lobby to change it. It’s not feminists who pushed through, or for, a male-only draft.

  13. Revenant

    revenant, as I’m sure you really did notice, the question is whether a bunch of women deciding to work in the mines would be treated exactly the same as a bunch of men ditto

    My point is that they’ll be greeted with hostility regardless. Women may receive even greater hostility, but there isn’t much reason to distinguish “I don’t want those men here because there aren’t enough jobs to go around” and “I don’t want those women here because there aren’t enough jobs to go around and girls are icky”. Laborers of any kind are not known for welcome an influx of new workers into the labor force. The hostility often exploits existing bigotries, but the real motivator is self-interest.

  14. Zack M. Davis

    The Selective Service is clearly unconstitutional anyway–“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” [italics mine]

    Why the Supreme Court has ruled, in effect, that “involuntary servitude” doesn’t mean “involuntary servitude,” I can’t say.

    Wait, I’m supposed to be lurking. Curses.

  15. beenaround

    Mythago opined:


    I wonder, given the culture of both the area and the mines, whether women who did try and beat down the doors would be welcome in with open arms, either by other miners or by management.

    So, in the context of this post, what exactly was your point?

    That women and men can’t achieve parity in relation to on-the-job deaths because those evil male coal miners will not welcome women into their industry with open arms?

    Or, perhaps more generally, that men should not complain about their higher on-the-job death rates because they are the ones preventing women from achieving parity?

  16. beenaround

    revenant opined:


    From an evolutionary standpoint, the human race needs stability in women’s lives more than it does in men.

    You are looking at this from the point of view of the species, and that is invalid. It is individuals who face selection and who have motives and agency.

    After all, Temujin is arguably the most successful man ever because he cared about what he could achieve, not about the species.

    His grandmothers too, are arguably the most successful women ever, and they achieved that through their sons, not their daughters.

  17. Cal

    Do miners make more or less than secretaries, receptionists, and dental workers? I’m honestly asking, although it was my understanding that union workers made much more.

  18. Ampersand

    Cathy wrote: 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.

    I know it’s not your main point, but I wanted to mention that my post cited two or three studies (depending on if you count the BLS findings), not just one.

    Also, just to clarify, it’s the studies which find that there is a wage premium for risk which exclude agriculture; if more studies included agriculture, a field which combines high risk and low pay, that would tend to make my point even stronger.

    Finally, as I wrote in the post you linked to, “a related argument made by some MRAs – that sexist occupational segregation leads to men being more likely to be injured or killed on the job – holds true. That is sexist, and unfair. Men’s greater likelihood of workplace injury and death has nothing to do with the wage gap, but that doesn’t mean it’s not unjust.”

    I think it’s important to understand that sexism in our society screws both sexes over; not just men, as you and many MRAs seem to believe, and not just women, as some feminists seem to believe. Workplace deaths are certainly a sign of how sexism can put men in harm’s way.

    However, getting rid of sexism wouldn’t remove the situation that killed the minors; it would just mean mixed sex deaths. That would, in an abstact anti-sexist sense, be an improvement; but it would be a hollow victory. Surely what we should want isn’t the equality of more women dying, but the equality of men’s on-the-job deaths becoming as rare as women’s.

    For preventing this particular kind of tragedy, what we need isn’t more women dying; imo, we need stronger safety regulations and stronger unions.

  19. Wookie

    Long time reader, first time poster, great blog by the way!

    I think that the problem with this issue is that it give the impression (rightly or wrongly still to decide) that feminism is only about advantage and not about equality.

    I see on a daily bases here in the UK articles by feminist writers about not enougth women in high profile proffesions, we constantly here about not enougth women MP’s, when in fact only a few hundred people in the whole country will ever become MP’s.

    We very rarely hear about campaigns to get women in to male dominated proffessions that are dangours and not appealing. Where are the campaigns for more women to collect our rubbish or clean our streets, fix our power lines etc.

    The only time I ever see feminists getting involved, is if there is a particular case where a individual women has found it difficult to get into one of these proffesions, then they get behind this individual to help them. If feminists had campaigned in the first place that individual may not have had such problems.

    It really does give the impression of a desire for equality in only the good parts of life, and men can keep all those icky jobs.

    I may be right I may be wrong, but you cannot deny that this is the impression that is out there.

    We also hear a lot about women and the discraceful way they are treated in sweat shops in the third world, but hear very little about the thousands of men that die each year in the mines around the world, China is a good example about this.

    Equality has both good and bad aspects, but sometimes you get the impression that feminism is only about the benfits.

  20. Cathy Young

    Barry, good points. I’d like to point out, though, that mining deaths have dropped dramatically in the past 25 years (which, by the way, pretty much demolishes Warren Farrell’s argument that no one cares about men dying because men are “disposable”).

    Wookie, welcome to the blog. Good points.

  21. jw

    cathy young said “A human tragedy is a human tragedy.” I completely agree. That said, most people will choose a few dollars in their own pockets over saving male lives. Sad, but true.

    Industrial hygienists can cut on the job accidents. The skill is there: The knowledge is there. The money to do it is not. People want the few dollars in their pockets: If that means dead men? Silence. People want the money more, a lot more, than they want the living men.

    The same does not apply when looking at saving female life. People, male and female, are willing to spend a bit to save female lives.

    I think, I seriously think, if we put through a referendum to spend $80 for each and every person in North America with good evidence that doing so would cut the on the job death rate by half, the referendum would fail and do so by a massive margin.

    As for people being proud of dead men? Such exist. Read the mass number of people who post online about male death and respond with “good.” Some of them are being crude, some of them are serious.

    I’m disabled and due to that spend a lot of time reading. The attitude towards male life in North America is getting worse at the same time it is getting better.

    We cannot fix problems by saying they do not exist.

    My opinion, for what it is worth.

  22. Cathy Young

    Oh, and mythago:


    I wonder, given the culture of both the area and the mines, whether women who did try and beat down the doors would be welcome in with open arms, either by other miners or by management.

    Well, I made the same point in my post. And I do think that if we talk about the unfairness of dangerous jobs being primarily held by men, it’s relevant to point out that there has been male resistance to women entering those jobs.

    I suspect, by the way, that women would have faced more resistance than other new workers. In fact, I don’t see why new workers would face any hostility at all unless there is a shortage of jobs.

  23. Cathy Young

    jw:

    Sorry, I’m just not buying that.

    A lot more people die in car accidents every year than from industrial accidents, and the gender gap in auto accident deaths is fairly small.

    I’m sure one could argue that we could cut auto accident deaths if we spent more money on car safety and lowered the speed limit, but we’re not willing to pay more money and inconvenience ourselves to save lives (both male and female).

  24. Wookie

    I also couldn’t see why there would hostility to new employees unless some one who was like had been sacked and you were taking their job and I am sure that women wanting to enter the very male proffesions will face problems.

    I work in an all female office, it is a very female enviroment, It took me a lot of adjustment when I started here, that was 5 years ago, it is scary moving out of comfort zones.

    I also think that things like Hazzing, that go on in male dominated feilds needs to be addressed as to why it may seem hostile to a women entering that proffession.

    My father has worked in Horse Racing all his life, some of the stories that he has told me about what happens to new stable lads when they start at a new yard are quite shocking, but as he expalined to me, it’s a dangerous job and the Hazzing is a way of finding out if the new guy is up for the job or not, as your life might depend on them, and if they crack easy, you dont really want them holding a horse for you when your under it. I will make a point to ask him whether this has changed with the recent influx of stable girls into the proffesion.

  25. Richard Bennett

    Men’s greater likelihood of dying on the job is a big problem for anti-MRA’s like Barry because it puts the lie to their claim that American society discriminates against women. Consequently, they have to spin like mad against it, and ultimately call for the elimination of high-risk jobs altogether. We see similar spin at work when the discussion covers life spans in general (women outlive men), military deaths, death penalties, and prison populations in general. The anti-MRA response is predictable: end war, abolish the death penalty, open the prisons (except for wife abusers), etc. The exercise smacks of sweeping the evidence for female privilege under the rug.

    Sexism exists, and we see it quite clearly in family court where women enjoy a huge advantage in custody, child support, alimony, and property settlements over men. But it’s necessary for the intellectually honest to recognize that not all disparities between men and women are the product of sexism or some other arbitrary cause. NFL players are all men, not because of sexism but because men are physically better able t o play football than women. No social engineering exercise will change that, and we’re not going to abolish football to appease anti-MRA’s on account of it.

    Similarly, some occupations involve more risk than others and no amount of engineering will alter that basic fact. Sure, we can automate coal production and eliminate miners in favor of robots, but the cost would be enormous so it’s not practical.

    And we would find if we undertook a massive effort to reduce workplace injuries that anti-MRA’s would simply cherry pick the data and find some obscure area where women were more at-risk than men and highlight it. Look at what they’ve done with violent crime: most victims of violent crime are men and boys, but the anti-MRA’s highlight partner abuse, a very small and obscure part of the overall crime picture, to make women out to the be the true victims of violence.

    Their tactics are so predictable they’re not even remarkable any more.

  26. mythago

    In fact, I don’t see why new workers would face any hostility at all unless there is a shortage of jobs.

    Almost all of my clients are blue-collar guys. There is no ‘hostility’ to new employees just because they’re new. Yes, there is some ‘hazing’ of the new guys–making them do all the scutwork–but it’s seen as part of paying your dues. I’ve never heard a single one of them express hostility to new people purely because they’re new, or because the new people might take jobs from the more experienced workers. (In unionized trades, that’s not going to happen anyway.)

    wookie, to the extent your criticisms are accurate, it has more to do with class than anything about feminism. Where blue-collar women and women’s groups are active, there most certainly is a push to get women into the trades and to get the trades to accept them just as they would any other apprentice.

  27. Richard Bennett

    Unfortunately, some trades have lowered physical standards for women in order to appease “feminist” appeals for greater participation. Fire-fighters in particular have done this, and it’s not a good thing, not even for those who advocated for it. Imagine what happens when a 250 lb feminist is trapped on the third floor of a burning building and the first firefighter up the ladder is a women who met the relaxed standard for upper body strength. One toasted feminist, of course.

    Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.

  28. Revenant

    mythago,

    Sorry, I thought you were talking about an influx of a large number of women at once, not about individual hires (although looking back at your original post I’m not sure why I thought that). It was the influx of a large body of new labor into an existing market that I was saying is greeted with hostility (it lowers wages), not all new hires.

  29. mythago

    It was the influx of a large body of new labor into an existing market that I was saying is greeted with hostility (it lowers wages)

    It doesn’t lower wages for unionized and/or trade jobs, especially in an industry like mining; it’s not as though you can just plunk a mine down anywhere you like and start hiring cheap labor.

    So, again, assuming that women did apply for the mine jobs available, would they be treated exactly the same as male applicants by management or their fellow workers? Especially in an economy where such jobs are highly sought-after.

  30. al fin

    One young man could theoretically inseminate millions of young women, if the semen were used efficiently. That is why men are disposable. For reproductive purposes, men are inordinantly potent. The same rules apply to prudent game management in the wild. Males are disposable.

    Why are people so hesitant to acknowledge something that everyone knows? It is a mere fact so why is it so freighted with hidden meaning?

  31. beenaround

    richard bennett opined:


    The exercise smacks of sweeping the evidence for female privilege under the rug.

    The purveyors of the nonsense about male privilege and white privilege and white-male privilege and white-male-heterosexual privilege and …-happy-childhood privilege and so on do so to gain a psychological advantage over you and privilege their position and arguments.

    You seem to have accepted debate on their terms.

    The fact is that males and females have average differences in many areas, and run different risks in life. For example, females run the risk of being left holding the baby, while males run the risk of investing enormous amounts of effort in someone else’s bastard (ie, being kuckolded).

    Both are tragic circumstances.

  32. Richard Bennett

    Irony can certainly be hard to detect on the Internets, beenaround.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s