For men of working age, not working tends to be a distinctly unpleasant experience. They exercise less than when they had a job, and they say that their relationships with family members worsen — despite having more timeto spend with those relatives.
For women, the situation is more complicated. They’re more likely to say that their health and their relationships with friends and family have improved since they stopped working.
In a similar vein, the geography of female employment and nonemployment tends to be more complicated than the male geography.
The towns and counties where the lowest share of men between the ages of 25 and 54 are employed tend to be some of the tougher places in the United States to live, including Appalachia, Northern Michigan, the Deep South and the interior Southwest.
The places with low levels of female employment have a lot of overlap with these high-poverty places, as an Upshot analysis of census data shows. That’s hardly surprising: Lack of employment has a strong and obvious correlation with poverty. Yet the geographic patterns of female work also have more nuances than the male patterns.
Female employment rates are relatively low in some fairly affluent areas, including Utah and other heavily Mormon areas — as well as on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The East 80s and the suburbs of Salt Lake City may be very different places, but both have local cultures with a bent toward stay-at-home parenting, which still is far more likely to be done by mothers. In this way, they are extreme examples of a national trend: a modestly increased interest in full-time parenting in recent years.
On the other hand, female employment rates are notably high, especially compared with male rates, in New England and parts of the upper Midwest, which tend to be fairly well off. Female rates are also comparatively high in a swath of lower-income rural areas across the middle of the country. In all these places, education — the fact that women are now more educated than men — plays a big role in these contrasts.
Over all, the share of prime-age women with jobs rose throughout much of the latter decades of the 20th century, driven by the feminist movement. But the generally disappointing economy of the last 15 years — combined with the uptick in stay-at-home parenting — has caused the rate to fall since 2000.
Currently, about 30 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 54 are not employed, compared with 26 percent in 1999. By contrast, female employment rates have continued rising in most rich countries. The employment for prime-age men in the United States has been falling for most of the past half-century.
Heavily Mormon areas are a throwback. Their high levels of social capital — including civic engagement and two-parent families — help create good economic conditions, according to multiple measures. In parts of the Salt Lake region, for example, less than 10 percent of prime-age men are not working — a rate that approaches the low nationwide rate of the 1950s and 1960s. At the same time, the male-dominated nature of Mormon culture has kept nonemployment rates for prime-age women extremely high — as high, in some areas, are they were for American women in the 1950s.
In several census tracts around Salt Lake City, more than 90 percent of prime-age men are working, but more than 30 percent of women are not. The contrast is even starker around Provo, which is more strongly Mormon than Salt Lake. In one tract in Utah County, 46 percent of prime-age women are not working, according to our estimates, while only 8 percent of men are not.
The parts of Nevada, Idaho and Arizona that are heavily Mormon show similar patterns.
Throughout much of New England, employment rates for prime-age women — relative to their national average — are higher than rates for prime-age men. To be clear, men in New England between the ages of 25 and 54 are more likely to be working than their female counterparts. But female employment rates in some areas exceed the national average, while male rates tend to trail the national average. Why? New England is a highly educated region, with a large number of white-collar jobs, and women nationwide now are more likely to graduate than men.
New England also has a history as a center of manufacturing, which has long been male-dominated. As factories have closed in recent decades and white-collar work has expanded, women have been in a better position to take advantage. The pattern is evident in and around Boston and Burlington, Vt., but it’s especially strong in New Hampshire. In the northern part of the state, the prime-age nonemployment rates are nearly identical for the sexes, both around 25 percent.
The story is similar in Iowa and Minnesota, which also have a shrinking factory presence and strong educational traditions. In Jasper County, Iowa, just east of Des Moines, the nonemployment rate for prime-age women (22 percent) is actually lower than that for men (27 percent).
New York City
For men, nonemployment rates tend to be higher in poorer areas. That’s true for women, too — but their nonemployment rates can also be high in the richest areas.
On the Upper East Side of Manhattan, about half of the women who live on the blocks adjacent to Central Park do not work. On this strip — one of the wealthiest areas of the city — the chance a woman does not work is about as high as it is in some of the poorest parts of the country.
Arizona and New Mexico
This fall, The Upshot produced a national map showing where the largest number of people had gained health coverage through the Affordable Care Act. You’ll notice a lot of similarity between that map and these, and that’s no coincidence.
The United States is unusual among rich countries in that it ties health insurance to employment. If you were not employed (and you’re not old enough for Medicare or poor enough for Medicaid), you traditionally had a hard time getting health insurance. The health law passed in 2010 tried to change this.
The places with the highest rates of nonwork — male and female — include parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Kentucky, West Virginia, Arkansas and Michigan. These same areas have also had a sharp increase in health coverage in the last year, in part because more people without jobs can now obtain health insurance. Some exceptions: Alabama and the Carolinas, where non-employment is widespread, but where local officials have optednot to put in the health law fully.
Employment rates are notably low for both and women in greater Appalachia, particularly in West Virginia and Kentucky. The region is on the wrong end of two big trends: It’s coal country, which is suffering amid the concerns about pollution and climate change; and fracking is rising in North Dakota and elsewhere. Appalachia also has low levels of educational attainment at a time when education has become an economic dividing line.
Where West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia come together, there are numerous census tracts in which half — and sometimes even more — of both prime-age men and prime-age women are not working.
In the northwest corner of North Dakota, near towns like Crosby and Williston, the non-employment rates for prime-age women are only a little lower than the national average of 30 percent. But the rates for men are substantially lower than the national average of 16 percent — sometimes around 5 percent. This is fracking country.