Here is what passes for good news about the U.S. employment market today: Women, who lost fewer jobs during the recession than men but have been slower at finding work during the recovery, are finally picking up the pace. They still lag behind men, but in the recovery’s third year, women have finally begun to narrow the employment gap. Women are gaining more jobs—as well as losing fewer—than they did when the recession ended in mid-2009.

That’s according to a study out Monday from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research , a Washington think tank. The report, which is based on IWPR’s analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics , finds that men—many of whom were idled during or after the 2007-2009 downturn when the housing bust wiped out construction and manufacturing jobs—are gravitating to sectors once dominated by women. Those sectors, namely education and health services also happen to be among the few reliable sources of jobs in the post-recession economy.

Overall, as of June 2012, men have recaptured 46.2% of the positions they lost since the recession began, while women have gained back 38.7%, the study’s authors found. However, the researchers are still puzzling over the uneven pace of gains—and a finding that men continue to notch more hires in every industry, not just certain ones where men are more likely to work, such as mining and logging.

“We’re looking at these numbers and we’re like, ‘What the heck is going on?’” said the study’s lead author, Heidi Hartmann, president of IWPR. “Men are having a more favorable experience in terms of hiring in the recovery. In the third year of the recovery, women are beginning to catch up….But no-one really knows why.”

The employment picture, while far from favorable for men or women, has brightened somewhat recently. The national unemployment rate in July was 8.3%. According to the report, titled, “Women and Men in the Recovery: Where the Jobs Are,” the unemployment rate for men fell to 8.4% from 10.6% between June 2009 and June 2012. During that period, women saw their unemployment rate decline less, from 8.3% to 8%.

While men were hit earlier and harder by the downturn, they also began to recover faster. Women took the brunt of the cuts in government jobs, Ms. Hartmann said, and most of those positions vanished not during the recession but in the early years of the recovery. Women’s recent pickup in job gains has happened largely in sectors that have been adding positions, such as education and health services—which the report identifies as the largest industry for women’s employment—as well as professional and business services.

In the three years of the recovery, the top three sectors that added the most jobs for men are professional and business services (937,000); trade, transportation and utilities (613,000) and education and health services (393,000). For women, the top three are: education and health services (713,000); professional and business services (504,000) and leisure and hospitality (243,000). During that same period, the sector that lost the most jobs for men was construction (down 402,000 jobs) and for women, government (down 406,000 jobs).

“Part of the recovery for men is that they are moving to areas where women dominate,” such as education and health services, Ms. Hartmann said.