The impact of COVID-19 on gender equality in Europe due to employment
There is an interesting economic insight from previous recessions. In those past recessions, men’s paid work has traditionally decreased, while that of women has increased. “Men have usually suffered losses in the labour market because they are more likely to work in industries that are commonly harder-hit in recessions – such as manufacturing and construction,” economists Sanna Nivakoski and Massimiliano Mascherini write in a paper for Intereconomics, a platform for economic and social policy debates in Europe. Hence, recessions have traditionally increased gender equality by reducing the gaps between men and women in paid work.
So, for more gender equality, an economic downturn is needed?
It is also a general trend. Over the past decades, there has been a reduction in the gender gap in employment rates. The gap in the EU member states reduced from 19 to 12 percentage points between 2000 and 2019. According to Nivakoski and Mascherini, the gap narrowed as women’s employment rate caught up with that of men: over this period, men saw an increase from 75 per cent to 79 per cent, while women’s increased from 56 per cent to 67 per cent.
What did the pandemic do to this rapprochement?
As in the previous recessions, the pandemic crisis narrowed the EU gender employment gap. Men’s employment rate declined by 0.9 percentage points (from 79.0 per cent to 78.1 per cent), whereas it declined by 0.5 percentage points (from 67.3 per cent to 66.8 per cent) for women. Therefore the overall EU gender employment gap was reduced by 0.4 percentage points. By the way: I didn’t find current data on how the pandemic affected the gender pay gap. In the EU, in 2019, it stood at 14.1 per cent and has only changed minimally over the last decade. It means that women earn 14.1 per cent on average less per hour than men.
So you could say that women came through the crisis better.
Wait. First: The development in the EU countries was very different. The moderate aggregate change in the gender employment gap masked the widening of the gap in 12 member states and the narrowing of the gap in 14 member states. Second: Unpaid work at homes has increased in the pandemic.
Tell me more.
Even before the pandemic, care duties and housework have been carried out primarily by women. Nivakoski and Mascherini: “In 2016, the average weekly time spent by parents on childcare tasks was 31 hours among women and 16 hours among men.” With closures of schools and childcare facilities, parental time dedicated to unpaid work of this kind increased in the pandemic, and gender differences persisted. Nivakoski and Mascherini again: “In the summer of 2020, the time spent by parents on childcare tasks averaged 37 hours per week among women and 23 hours per week among men.”
What about the future?
What the pandemic changed: The acceptance of teleworking. Teleworking is here to stay. It may enhance flexibility, with the potential of benefitting women’s employment and labour market participation in the future.
But that could also consolidate role models.
Exactly. “Higher teleworking among women may further increase the share of unpaid care and household work that falls on women’s shoulders,” Nivakoski and Mascherini write. In addition: “if women are more likely than men to avail of teleworking, they may face worse career prospects than their male counterparts.” The influence of more teleworking on the gender working gap is therefore open.
Evidence from the EU indicates that gender differences in labour market shifts have been relatively modest. But unpaid work carried out inside homes has increased in the pandemic, “and evidence points to women’s share in care responsibilities and domestic tasks remaining higher than those of men in the pandemic, continuing the gender divides of past decades,” Nivakoski and Mascherini conclude.
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