How COVID-19 is Impacting Gender Inequality

BY Gaia Aviloff

COVID-19 has exacerbated gender inequality in the job market. Recent studies have shown that the global pandemic is disproportionately affecting women in two main ways. Firstly, women work in the hardest-hit sectors. Secondly, the closure of schools and the shift to online learning have impacted women’s ability to work from home. 

The study The Labour Market Impacts of the COVID‑19: A Global Perspective shows how 40% of all employed women work in the sectors that have been most affected by COVID-19.  The UN WOMEN has released data revealing how female unemployment fell by 50% in Asia and the Pacific compared to 35% in male unemployment. To help evaluate which sectors have been most affected, the study The Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Inequality has distinguished two criteria:

  1. Whether or not current regulations have limited the sector’s output
  2. Whether or not the sector allows for telecommuting

The sectors considered ‘essential’ are Transportation and Material Moving; Healthcare Support; Farming, Fishing, and Forestry; Installation, Maintenance, and Repair; Protective services; Healthcare Practitioners and Technicians. Women work in 4 out of these six sectors, and men work in 6 out of the six sectors. Moreover, 70% of women who work in healthcare services, social work, or who are frontline workers are paid less than their male counterparts.

On average, in the United States, 28% of men work in sectors that allow for telecommute compared to 22% of women. Thus, women will be more likely to face unemployment as they work in industries that cannot adapt to the new remote working format. The graph below shows which sectors are considered essential and which allow for telecommuting in the United States.

 In households where both married members can telecommute for work, the wife will most likely quit her job to provide childcare and housework. In Europe, the pandemic has exacerbated these gendered patterns, with women reducing their work hours 4 to 5 times more than men.

The closure of schools, childcare services, and day centres coupled with older relatives’ unavailability has further splintered gender inequality. There has been an increase in childcare needs with children staying at home and having classes online. The distribution of childcare needs varies on the work arrangements of the members within a household. In the United States, 25% of married couples have a traditional labour division in which men are employed full time and women stay at home. However, in only 5% of married couples, the arrangement is the opposite. In marriages with traditional work distribution, the increase in childcare needs will fall on women. The European Institute for Gender Inequality shows how, before COVID-19, married women provided 39 hours of childcare and married men provided 21 hours. The rise in childcare needs has further amplified the gendered patterns in the unequal distribution of childcare. The graph below illustrates the division of childcare and housework in households across 22 countries.

                                   Source: UN WOMEN

The division of childcare within a family reflects the existing disparities between men and women.

Single mothers are the most vulnerable to these changes. They must juggle home-schooling, the rise of childcare needs, and work. Single mothers must also rely on a single income; however, studies have shown that they are more likely to work in sectors that have been most affected by current restrictions. According to the Central Statistics Office, there are 44.5% single mother households in Ireland compared to only 18.6% single fathers. Single mother households are more at risk of living in poverty since most governments worldwide do not supply social coverage.

Nonetheless, the study The Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Inequality proposes that the flexible working format may produce greater gender equality. The conversion to remote working, adopted during the pandemic, is likely to persist in a hybrid form. More fathers will be able to participate in childcare needs and housework actively. Which can lead to an equal distribution of household tasks as both members may balance their careers with childcare needs and housework. Studies have shown that boys with a working mother will be more likely to marry a working woman contributing to changing gendered norms.

The European Institute for Gender Inequality suggests that the EU promotes education free from gendered stereotypes. Women may access less impacted sectors which allow for telecommuting. The study also states how: “Addressing women’s under-representation in STEM occupations could create up to 1.2 million jobs and increase GDP by up to EUR 820 billion by 2050.” By implementing policies that aim to reduce gender inequality in the labour market, EU member states will see higher economic growth and greater financial stability.

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