In this week’s #SkepticalTuesday post, I take a look at the statistics of death in the workplace and debunk the claim that it’s a disproportionately dangerous place for women. Read on, skeptics.
Last week, in the wake of the killings of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, a reporter and cameraman for WDBJ-TV in the state of Virginia, the Washington Post reminded us that murders take place at work. The headline read “Murder is the Second Most Likely Way for Women to Die at Work,” which, shockingly, is true in the US. But what that actually means is different from what the article suggests.
“It’s a pattern that disproportionately affects women,” the article continues. And that is true in a way: it’s disproportionate, but not in the way you’d expect. In fact, what’s disproportionate about it is how few women are murdered at work. I’ll explain.
The statistics I’ll be talking about are drawn from here and here. They’re statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, from the year 2013, and they break down, among other things, workplace deaths and causes of those deaths. These are the same statistics used by the Washington Post article.
Now, the things which kill women are, in order and rounded to the nearest percentile, “transportation incidents” (42%), “violence and other injuries by persons or animals” (32%), “falls, slips, and trips” (12%), “contact with objects and equipment” (7%), “exposure to harmful substances or environments” (3%), and “fires and explosions” (3%).
So it’s completely true that “murder is the second most likely way for women to die at work,” if, by “murder” we also include suicide and animal attacks (a breakdown of that 32% is not given, though I strongly suspect bear attacks and unfortunate zoo incidents don’t make up the majority of that workplace violence).
And it’s also true that murder (we’ll just keep using the term, understanding what it means in this context) is much lower down the list for men, which runs as follows: “transportation incidents” (41%), “contact with objects and equipment” (16%), “falls, slips, and trips” (16%), “violence and other injuries by persons or animals” (16%), “exposure to harmful substances or environments” (8%), and “fires and explosions” (3%).
But that’s not reflective of reality, which is that by a large margin, women are much less likely to die by violence at work than men. How do I come to that conclusion? By using real numbers.
The total number of men and women killed in the workplace in 2013 was 4,585: 4,265 men and 319 women. The number of men killed by violence in the workplace was 672; the number of women killed by violence in the workplace was 101.
It is totally true that of women who died in the workplace, a greater proportion were killed by violence than of men who died in the workplace. But:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics records the number of people in the workforce over the age of 16, for 2013, at roughly 247,947,000: that’s 119,748,000 men and 128,199,000 women (more women! I know!). Adjusted for percentage of the workforce, the number of women who died by violence in the workplace would thus be 319 of 128,199,000, or 0.000079%. For men, that number is 0.000561%, or 672 of 119,748,000.
Put simply, men are roughly seven times more likely to die by violence in the workplace than women.
Women don’t have an easy time in the workforce. They’re underpaid, passed over for promotion, fired or not hired because of pregnancy (or even the potential for pregnancy). The work we call “women’s work” statistically pays less. But in this one instance, I have to say women don’t have it so bad.
By the same quirk of the patriarchy that makes “women’s work” pay less, “men’s work” tends to be more hazardous.
Is it shocking that anyone is murdered at work? Yes. Is it likely that the women killed by violence at work are predominantly killed by male violence? Yes.
But are women murdered more on a proportional basis at work than men?
In that, I’d have to say no. By all loss-of-life metrics, women are definitely safer at work.
Richard Ford Burley is a writer, library worker, and doctoral candidate in English at Boston College, where he’s studying remix culture and the processes that generate texts. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, and feminism (and workplace mortality) here at This Week In Tomorrow.