On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. In the months after, people suffered massive job losses. While the job losses for men are numerous, they are even worse for women. Women already have lower incomes due to a gender pay gap and being overrepresented in part-time work, so the job losses are disastrous. This should matter to all of us, regardless of gender, because it will impact most families and our economy in the long run.
A Statistics Canada study showed that between February and April of 2020, 5.5 million workers either lost their jobs or lost work hours due to COVID-19. By June, the number reduced by 43 per cent. The study compares the difference in employment between February and June and states, “In all age groups, men were closer to pre-employment levels than women.” Let’s look at men and women between the ages of 15 to 24. Men’s employment in June was 19 per cent lower than February, while women’s was down 26 per cent. For men aged 25-54, employment reduced by 6 per cent. For women, it was 8 per cent. For men aged 55 and older, employment went down by 8 per cent. For women, it was 11 per cent.
Part of the reason why there’s such a difference may be due to the industries many women work in, which have been hit very hard with job losses. The Canadian Women’s Foundation states, “Workers affected include flight attendants, cooks, servers, and cleaners in travel and hospitality. As stores close or reduce hours, there are cutbacks for retail workers, many of whom are also women. Women in the already precarious and undervalued childcare sector have also stopped work as daycares are closed (except those serving essential-service workers). Aside from industries shut down by COVID-19, women also make up the majority of Canada’s minimum-wage workers and part-time workers.”
It should be noted that despite the facts about job loss in industries dominated by women, a lack of education isn’t necessarily the issue. According to a 2019 Statistics Canada study about the gender pay gap, “Women are now better educated, on average, than their male counterparts, having made substantial gains in educational attainment over the past three decades by increasingly acquiring university degrees at the bachelor level or above, and doing so at a faster pace than men.”
Women with children have also been adversely affected by the pandemic’s impact on education and childcare. Parents have had to cope with ongoing and unpredictable school and daycare closures. Plus, women have always performed more household chores and parental tasks than their male partners.
That trend continued during the pandemic. According to Statistics Canada, “Women reported that they were the ones who mostly performed the parental tasks in their household during the pandemic, including homeschooling. Further, employment status and work location affected the division of parental tasks within couples. For example, men who worked from home reported a more equal division of parenting tasks, but it was the opposite for women who worked from home as they were less likely to report sharing tasks equally and more likely to take on the bulk of the parenting responsibilities.”
Parents with school-aged children also had to decide which parent would quit a job or reduce hours to accommodate childcare or distance education. It would make sense for the parent with the higher income to keep their job. With the continuing pay gap, it’s more than likely that the woman would be the one to quit her job or reduce her hours.
Don’t forget single parents. The Canadian Women’s Foundation states, “80 per cent of single-parent households are led by women” so the financial situation would be worse for a single parent affected by job loss or reduced hours, never mind dealing with childcare or navigating distance learning.
From a financial perspective, fewer women in the workforce or women working fewer hours means less money contributing to the economy, so the loss is bad for everyone. A McKinsey & Company article from July 15, 2020 examines this topic closely. The authors call this detrimental effect to women a “gender-regressive scenario.” They estimate that if nothing is done, “global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower in 2030 than it would be if women’s unemployment simply tracked that of men in each sector.” However, if something is done to increase gender equality, then we could add “$13 trillion to global GDP in 2030.”
Gender inequality has always been there, and the pandemic has simply exacerbated the problem. Our society can no longer claim this inequality is a feminist issue. It’s an issue for everyone. And the sooner equality is achieved, the better life will be for everyone.