Coronavirus will widen gender gaps at work and home

More women will lose their jobs than men and the coronavirus will widen gender gaps both at work and at home, according to research published today.

A study from the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance concludes that – over the long term – the coronavirus crisis will bring about a “substantial shift” in gender roles.

Authors Dr Claudia Hupkau and Professor Barbara Petrongolo predict that, as female-dominated sectors such as hospitality have been worst hit by the virus and related restrictions, the distribution of jobs losses could fall heavily on women.

The research, entitled Work, care and gender during the Covid-19 crisis, also found that the closure of schools and childcare settings meant women were more likely to be caring for children at home, leading to an increase in pre-existing disparities in division of care.

However, it acknowledges that an increased acceptance of working from home could benefit women more than men in the longer term.

It reports that in the UK, 48% of women are in jobs that can be done from home, against 39% of men, and due to “heavier household responsibilities” women may value flexibility or remote work opportunities more than men.

Furthermore, in around a fifth of households where there is a mother, father and dependent children, childcare is now shared more equally between men and women – either because the father is working from home or is not working.

This is especially true in households where the mother works in a critical sector such as the NHS and the father is forced to stay home. “This may accelerate the evolution of gender norms towards more equitable roles,” the report finds.

Prof Petrongolo said: “The Covid-19 crisis is currently widening the gender gap at work, where women are more likely to lose their jobs than men, and at home, where women are taking on the bulk of childcare.

“But there are a substantial minority of families where fathers now shoulder the bulk of childcare. Together with the way we are adapting our working lives to cope during the lockdown, this gives me hope that in the long term, a more equal society will emerge.”

Dr Hupkau added that women now face great challenges as they account for the majority of front-line roles or are at more risk of losing their job as it is a high risk sector such as hospitality.

She said: “Previous studies have shown that women value flexible working and the ability to work from home, and if these options remain as the economy reopens, that could boost parents’ ability to combine work and family commitments.

“The influx of women into the labour market during the Second World War led to permanent positive change for women’s job prospects in the following decades.

“Perhaps when we look back, the Covid-19 crisis will prove to have been a similar turning point.”

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