Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dying On The Job. Anti-Feminism And Feminism

The Men's Rights Activists of a certain stripe argue that women's lower average earnings are a trade-off for men's higher risk of occupational injury. That is my interpretation of the many arguments I've read which range from foaming-at-the-mouth rants to subtle references to the higher death rates at typically male occupations when anything at all is said about women's lower earnings.

The argument is difficult to analyze because those who bring it up don't seem to want a change at all. They don't want a more feminist world where women might be a greater percentage in the dangerous jobs and thus fewer men would die in them. They don't want to make those jobs safer, either.

Instead, they want male supremacy, higher accident deaths for male loggers and fishermen to continue, and for women to shut up about their lower average earnings.

Which is pretty weird. The other weird thing is that if we turned all those dangerous occupations into a fifty-fifty gender balance, women would still earn less than men. It's not the dangerous male jobs which explain the gender gap in earnings, for the most part.

After all that, let's look at those jobs. The statistics I found refer to dying on the job and obviously don't cover all types of injuries or job-related illnesses, and the list indeed is very male. The highest death risk belongs to fishers, loggers, aircraft pilots and engineers:

Fishers and related fishing workers" died from workplace injuries at the rate of 200 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2009, according to the B.L.S., 60 times greater than the rate of 3.3 per 100,000 for the overall American work force. For loggers, the fatality rate was 61.8 per 100,000 and for aircraft pilots and flight engineers, 57.1 per 100,000.
Keep those numbers in mind. The rest of the ten most dangerous occupations are shown in the following table:

Women are not commmon as workers in those dangerous industries:

Maybe it's because men work in more hazardous jobs or maybe it's because they're daredevils or just plain stupid risk-takers, but the fatality rate from workplace injuries is more than nine times higher for men than for women: 5.5 per 100,000 for men, compared with 0.6 per 100,000 for women. The B.L.S. reported that 4,021 men died from workplace injuries in 2009, compared with 319 women.

I think those comments about being "daredevils" or "stupid risk-takers" are pretty misplaced, especially in the context of death.

Now for the feminist analysis: What is the most dangerous traditionally female job category?

Prostitution, right*? The problem with prostitution is that it's not regarded a legal occupation in most places and therefore we don't get statistics on it. But I have recently read much on violence and sex workers, including the recent find in New York of several buried bodies, many of which belong to prostitutes and suggest a serial murderer in the area.

One study on prostitutes' death rates between 1967 and 1999 offers some information:

To our knowledge, no population of women studied previously has had a crude mortality rate, standardized mortality ratio, or percentage of deaths due to murder even approximating those observed in our cohort. The workplace homicide rate for prostitutes (204 per 100,000) is many times higher than that for women and men in the standard occupations that had the highest workplace homicide rates in the United States during the 1980s (4 per 100,000 for female liquor store workers and 29 per 100,000 for male taxicab drivers) (29).

The high homicide and overall mortality rates observed in our cohort probably reflect circumstances for nearly all prostitutes in the United States (where prostitution is illegal, except for a few rural Nevada counties where brothels are permitted (34)) and many other countries. Although these Colorado Springs prostitutes appeared to be representative of all US prostitutes in terms of prevalence and number of sexual partners (9, 12) and although they worked as prostitutes (and died) in many parts of the country, prostitutes elsewhere might have different mortality rates and profiles.

Women engaged in prostitution face the most dangerous occupational environment in the United States. Research identifying individual and contextual factors that make prostitutes vulnerable to murder and drug overdose can inform the development of interventions for reducing harm (32, 37, 48, 49).
Bolds are mine.

It's difficult to know what that table of the most dangerous occupations would look like if prostitution was counted, but it would certainly look different. Note the murder rate of 204 per 100,000. If it's an annual rate, the prostitutes would lead the statistics of most dangerous jobs.
*From a traditional angle, being a homemaker would also not be regarded as a job. It, too, has an occupational risk. Note that the earnings of prostitutes are not included in the earnings comparisons, either. The whole industry operates outside statistics.

Added later: From a ten-minute search, I found the following recent news about sex workers and murder