Women’s average working hours have been less affected than men’s, with women who do not have children now working longer hours than ever before.
In contrast to predictions of a “shecession” at the start of the pandemic, research published today by the Resolution Foundation found important distinctions between parents and non-parents emerging at different phases of the pandemic.
Many initially predicted that women would face a more severe labour market hit during the pandemic because they were 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, the foundation’s quarterly Labour Market Outlook found that 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% since the start of the crisis, driven by a sharp fall in self-employment, compared to a 0.8% 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 5% since the start of the pandemic.
Taking these hours and employment trends together, the researcher’s analysis found that the fall in women’s total hours worked has been around one-third smaller than the fall in men’s total hours worked.
Hannah Slaughter, an 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 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 in fact 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.”
One reason it is thought women have been less affected has been their concentration in the public sector, including in education and health, where they account for 70% of the workforce, and where employment has remained relatively steady.
In July 2020, as businesses began to reopen but schools remained closed, mothers’ working hours were down by almost a quarter (24%) on their pre-crisis level, a fall four times as large as fathers (down 6%), and almost twice as large as that of non-parents (down 13%).
While the gap between mothers and fathers had largely closed by the January 2021, 18% of mothers said that, on top of these reductions, they had adjusted their working patterns to accommodate childcare or home-schooling, compared to 13% of fathers.