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Coronavirus: Women bearing burden of childcare and homeschooling in lockdown, study finds

Research suggests coronavirus outbreak is widening gender gap in workplace and home

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Thursday 14 May 2020 07:07 BST
Four-year-old Lois Copley-Jones disturbs her mother Ruth, who is pictured working from home in Newcastle Under Lyme in March
Four-year-old Lois Copley-Jones disturbs her mother Ruth, who is pictured working from home in Newcastle Under Lyme in March (Getty)

Coronavirus is exacerbating the gender gap as women bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities and homeschooling during lockdown – whether they’re working or not, a new study has found.

The report, carried out by the London School of Economics, shows women are more likely than men to lose their jobs in the upcoming recession because a greater proportion work in sectors which are predicted to be hardest hit.

Women are overrepresented in hospitality, leisure, tourism and the arts – industries where thousands of workers have been furloughed or laid off due to the coronavirus crisis.

Researchers argued a key difference between the forthcoming economic crisis and the 2008 financial crash is that women are more vulnerable to losing their jobs due to working in “locked-down sectors”.

The report found women are more likely to deal with homeschooling, childcare and chores around the house even if they are juggling this with working at the same time; arguing the closure of schools and childcare providers during lockdown has compounded “pre-existing disparities” between how childcare is dished out between couples.

However, researchers found this trend is being bucked in some households, with childcare being distributed more equally in 20 per cent of homes which include a woman, man and dependant children.

This can be attributed to the fact fathers are now taking on more childcare due to the Covid-19 crisis leading to them either being furloughed, laid off or having to work from home, researchers said.

The report suggested the coronavirus emergency could potentially lead to greater equality around traditional “gender roles” in the long run as it becoming more socially acceptable and commonplace for people to work from home.

But Professor Barbara Petrongolo, one of the economists involved in the report, said the coronavirus outbreak is not only widening the gender gap in the workplace but also in the home.

She added: “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 Claudia Hupkau, who was also involved in the study, said: “Women are facing great challenges. They make up the majority of those working in jobs on the front line, and those working in industries that have been closed entirely – particularly in those sectors, such as hospitality, which are at higher risk of being destroyed as it is unclear when and at what capacity they will be able to reopen.

“But 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.”

Turn2us, a charity which tackles poverty that polled 2,014 working-age adults, recently found women’s incomes are expected to fall by £309 a month, which amounts to a nosedive of 26 per cent, in comparison to an 18 per cent fall of £247 in men’s earnings.

A spokesperson for the Government Equalities Office said: “The government is protecting people’s jobs and incomes with multibillion-pound measures including the coronavirus job retention scheme; the coronavirus self-employment income support scheme; and changes to our welfare system, making it quicker and easier to access support, as well as more generous.

“Covid-19 is prompting a culture shift with more people than ever before working from home. By harnessing that as we recover, we could see more equal sharing of care work by parents, and more flexibility from employers, enabling us to unleash the potential of everyone across the country.”

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