Future of Work

Brick-and-mortar retail job numbers have been on a downward trend in the U.S., but the losses have not affected both genders equally. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) released a report Monday showing that the decline has been absorbed almost completely by women.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from November 2016 to November 2017, women lost 129,000 jobs in retail trade. Men, on the other hand, gained 106,000 retail jobs. Why are so many jobs changing hands in such a short period? It’s mostly a function of the relentless pace of automation, which is consuming retail jobs as large companies like Amazon grow at the expense of traditional shops.

But that doesn’t account for the gender imbalance. In the last year, women went from making up 64 percent of general-merchandise store positions to 60 percent.

Observers are befuddled: in a statement released with the findings, IWPR president Heidi Hartmann emphasized that the organization does not know what’s behind the trend. She did speculate, however, that women could be leaving behind lower-paying retail jobs to enter higher-paying industries. Another possibility is that sales are doing better in the retail sectors that men are more likely to work in, like car or furniture sales.

As we have said before, positions in e-commerce and fulfillment have been created even as retail jobs are lost. So it’s not enough to simply look at one sector and fret. The same forces that are causing turbulence in the retail industry are actually offsetting many of those losses with job growth elsewhere.