WOMEN’S AVERAGE WORKING HOURS have taken a far smaller hit during the pandemic than men’s, with women who do not have children now working longer hours than ever before in marked contrast to predictions of a ‘shecession’ at the start of the pandemic, according to new research published this week by the Resolution Foundation.
The Foundation’s quarterly Labour Market Outlook, finds that gender differences in the labour market shock caused by Covid-19 do not fit the pattern expected at the start of the crisis, with important distinctions between parents and non-parents emerging at different phases of the pandemic.
Many initial predictions were that women would face the more severe labour market hit during the pandemic. This was based, says the Foundation, on the fact that women are more likely to work in low-paying, badly-affected sectors such as retail, and because women with children were more likely to be impacted by school closures.
However, while the situation for working mothers has been difficult, over the year of the crisis a different picture has emerged for women as a whole.
The employment rate among men has fallen by 2.4 per cent since the start of the crisis, driven by a sharp fall in self-employment, compared to a 0.8 per cent fall for women. Full-time female employment has actually increased over the course of the crisis.
While working hours have fallen during the crisis, by the start of 2021, average working hours among women who do not have children actually reached a record high, up by five per cent since the start of the pandemic.
Taking these hours and employment trends together, the Foundation’s analysis finds that the fall in women’s total hours worked has been around one-third smaller than the fall in men’s total hours worked.
This relatively small labour market hit among women has been driven in part by their concentration in the public sector, including in education and health where they account for 70 per cent of the workforce, and where employment has remained relatively steady.
It also reflects the continuation of pre-crisis trends, says the Foundation, as women have worked longer hours to protect stagnant household incomes.
But while the gender impact of the crisis has not borne out as many predicted, important differences remain, particularly in regard to working parents.
In July 2020, as businesses began to reopen but schools remained closed, mothers’ working hours were down by almost a quarter (24 per cent) on their pre-crisis level, a fall four times as large as fathers (down six per cent), and almost twice as large as that of non-parents (down 13 per cent).
While the gap between mothers and fathers had largely closed by the January 2021, almost one-in-five (18 per cent) of mothers said that, on top of these reductions, they had adjusted their working patterns to accommodate childcare or home-schooling, compared to 13 per cent of fathers.
Worryingly, mothers also reported during this period that their mental health had been significantly impacted by school closures – while fathers, on average, reported no impact.
Looking ahead, the Foundation says that with trends in hybrid working (in which employees split their time between the office and home) yet to play out, the wider gender impact of the crisis could still change.
It notes that fewer women than men say they would want to return to the office full-time – a change that could potentially damage their long-term career progression if office presence continues to influence pay rises and promotions.
Hannah Slaughter, economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: “At the start of the crisis, many people warned of a ‘shecession’ as female-dominated sectors such as retail were shut down.
“But the economic hit of the Covid-19 crisis has in fact seen greater overall falls in employment for men than women. Full time female employment has actually risen, while women without children who kept their jobs are working longer hours than before the crisis.
“However, mothers have clearly been affected more severely than fathers by school closures and the difficulties of home schooling. Low-earning women in the health and care sector have also faced greater health risks over the course of the pandemic.
“The overall impact of the crisis has been much more equal between the genders than expected. But with the crisis still with us, and the future of home working unclear, the lasting gender impact of the crisis is still highly uncertain.”
* Read Labour Market Outlook Q2 2021 here.
* Source: Resolution Foundation