Fatal Accidents And Violence While At Work1
In the United States, in 2005, men were 54% of the workforce but 93% of workers who died at work due to fatal accidents or violence (pdf link). (The raw numbers are 5300 men, 402 women).2 For women at work, the most common cause of death was highway accidents, followed by homicide. For men at work, the most common cause of death was also highway accidents, followed by “contact with objects and equipment” and then by falls. Looking at risk ratios, the most likely workers to die of accident or violence at work are agricultural, fishing and lumber workers; in terms of raw numbers, however, construction workers are killed the most often.
There are a little over 200 workplace suicides each year, about 94% of which are men. (Interestingly, although in all other areas of workplace death non-whites — and especially non-white immigrants — are disproportionately likely to be the victims, a disproportionately high number of workplace suicides are committed by white workers.) The most likely occupations for workplace suicide are police, farmer, and soldier.
Death Due To Workplace-Related Disease
Workplace deaths due to accidents and violence tend to get a lot of attention, because they are dramatic and relatively simple to measure. But, in terms of total numbers, they’re a minor problem. Deaths due to workplace-related disease and toxic exposure are a far larger problem, killing over 100,000 Americans a year, according to the International Labor Organization’s estimates (pdf link).
I couldn’t find clear figures comparing female and male deaths due to work-related disease and exposure in the United States. But according to the ILO, in established market economies as a whole, 240,700 men and 46,298 women died in 2002 due to work-related disease; put another way, 84% of workers who die due to work-related disease are male. (These figures are estimates; workplace mortality due to disease is not possible to measure with pinpoint accuracy).
What causes the discrepancy in workplace deaths? The main cause is “occupational segregation” – the tendency for some jobs to be mostly held by men, and others to be mostly held by women. The most hazardous jobs — whether due to exposure to dangerous substances, or to risk of falling or being in a highway accident — are disproportionately held by men. (Contrary to popular belief, people in risky jobs are not usually paid extra to compensate them for danger).
Occupation segregation, in turn, is caused in part by workplace discrimination, both in the form of employers preferring a particular sex, and in the form of on-the-job harassment and discrimination making blue-collar women, or a pink collar men, know that they’re unwelcome.
Occupational segregation is also caused by self-segregation, as many male workers feel uncomfortable applying for female-dominated jobs, and vice versa. There is, in my opinion, a vicious cycle functioning; the lack of pink-collar male, and blue-collar female, role models and mentors makes it less likely that future workers will cross the occupational gender line.
While we should fight occupational segregation, getting rid of occupational segregation won’t solve the tragedy of work-related deaths; more women and less men dying is less sexist, but still not a net improvement in terms of saving lives. What’s needed is more pro-active government intervention to make workplaces safer3 , along with a reform of tort laws to make it easier for workers and their survivors to successfully sue employers. (Edited years later to add: And, of course, we need more unionization of workplaces.)
The problem with a dry term like “occupational segregation” is that, while it’s accurate, it also obscures how disproportionate male deaths in the workplace are caused by sexism. Nearly all of the causes of occupational segregation, in one way or another, are themselves caused in part by sexism. Workplace deaths are a clear example of how sexism harms men in the United States.
- In this blog post, I’m concentrating on workplace deaths. But it’s also the case that men are more likely than women to be injured at work. [↩]
- This number does not include illegal jobs. My impression is that prostitution — a female-dominated job — and drug dealing — a male-dominated job — are both relatively high-mortality jobs. My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that including illegal job mortality might reduce the male/female mortality discrepancy a bit, but it certainly wouldn’t eliminate it. [↩]
- There’s no reason that this has to consist solely of micro-management and regulations. For instance, the government could offer tax breaks for companies that can rigorously prove that they’ve reduced workplace accidents and fatalities by a substantial amount. [↩]