One of the lasting legacies of recessions such as the ongoing Covid-19 downturn is the massive disruption of the labour markets. The impacts of past recessions and other crises are never gender-neutral, and COVID‑19 is no exception. Studies have shown that women have been more vulnerable to the disruption caused by the Coronavirus crisis in developed as well as developing economies. The various disruptions and dynamic shifts caused by the Covid-19 recession are expected to have far-reaching implications on the global labour markets. The disproportionate effect of the Covid-19 recession on men’s and women’s unemployment is a major unique feature that differentiates the Covid-19 recession from previous recessions. Against this background, this paper critically looks into the labour market implications of the COVID-19 recession on men and women, and what these implications portend going forward.
Labor Market Implications of the COVID-19 Recession
As pointed out earlier, the impacts of the economic crisis are never gender-neutral, and the current one is no exception. Men and women have been affected differently by the pandemic. One of the key areas of the global labour market that has been severely affected by the pandemic is unemployment. Lockdowns, curfews and other movement restrictions caused companies to lay off millions of workers.
However, the implications of the Covid-19 recession have affected men and women differently. Unlike the other previous recessions that disproportionately affected men’s employment, the pandemic recession of 2020 caused a larger employment decline among women (Alon et al., 2021). These findings are supported by the World Economic Forum, which estimates that “women make up almost two-fifths of the global labour force but have suffered more than half of total job losses from the crisis. That has left them 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic’s impact than men” (Wood, 2020). Women are overrepresented in most of the sectors and industries hardest hit by the pandemic, including retail, foodservice retail as well as entertainment. Female unemployment has been particularly severe in occupations and industries predominantly dominated by women. According to the International Labor Organization (2021), women who lack post-secondary education exited the labour force in larger numbers than their similarly educated men. However, the Covid-19 recession has not indiscriminately affected all female workers. While all women have been affected by the pandemic, some groups have been borne the brunt of the crisis more than others. These include working mothers, women in senior management positions as well as minority women (McKinsey &Company, 2021).
Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the gender-pay gap, which has always been skewed against women. Studies have shown that the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has worsened gender inequality in the global workforce. According to the International Labor Organization (2021), the pandemic has compounded the existing gender inequalities that have traditionally put women at a major disadvantage compared to their male counterparts. According to the World Economic Forum (2021), the Coronavirus crisis has amplified the many gender inequalities that characterized virtually all countries across the globe. The crisis has exacerbated the global gender gap to the disadvantage of women, particularly those with family responsibilities.
In most of the previous recessions, men faced a greater risk of unemployment than women. This phenomenon can be explained by the overrepresentation of men in most of the largest industries and sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing, transportation utilities and constructions (Alon et al. 2021). The Covid-19 economic downturn has proved to be different from its predecessors in that it tilted the cyclical unemployment risk balance in favour of men. According to Alon et al. (2021), most women-dominated occupations are not telecommutable, and this made them more likely to be laid off during the Covid-19 recession. This has exposed women to more unemployment risk compared to the other past recessions, and this is projected to put upward pressure on the average gender wage gap over the next couple of years (Alon et al. 2021). The risk is even higher for working single mothers.
What are the implications of this going forward?
Notably, the increased gender inequality is expected to have far-reaching implications on the global economy and different demographic groups especially women. The Covid-19 pandemic is expected to prompt new policy measures to deal with the changing trajectory of global gender inequality. Alon et al. (2021) recommend government subsidies to replace 80% of pay for workers who provide childcare during economic downturns such as Covid-19. The author also recommends that unemployment benefits should be extended to workers who leave employment to provide child care. Moreover, world governments should allow working female parents to keep their jobs and benefit from promotion opportunities during recessions. These and other policy reforms can go a long way in addressing gender inequalities, whose severity is often exacerbated by recessions.
The new shift could also affect other aspects of gender inequality. For instance, the increased unemployment risk has the potential to push more women into poverty. Gender-biased unemployment and underemployment deny women the much-needed opportunity to earn income and create wealth, which keeps the larger majority in a poverty trap. As the world gradually recovers from the Covid-19 recession, women will find it more difficult to get back on their feet compared to men.
Moreover, the new paradigm shift has the potential to trigger new dynamics in the labour market. For instance, more companies are expected to adopt flexible work arrangements such as remote working, hybrid work models and more. The massive disruptions caused by the recessions have compelled many companies to rethink their work arrangements, and how they affect different groups of employees. So far, flexible working has been overwhelmingly successful for both employers and employees during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Sposato (2021), the growing positive attitude towards remote work will inspire more companies to switch to long-term remote work models. This shift could prove vital for female workers, who are often overburdened by childcare and housework obligations.
In a nutshell, this paper has looked into the labour market implications of the Covid-19 recession on men and women. The current recession has proved to be different from its predecessors. The Covid-19 recession has had a disparate gender impact, which is a sharp deviation from the historical norm of past recessions. This paper has illustrated some of the major ways in which the current recession has benefited and cost men and women. The various shifts caused by the pandemic are projected to reshape the future of the global labour market and the global economy as a whole. These paradigm shifts are also expected to trigger new policy reforms for addressing the implications of the recession on different groups of people. The various disruptions caused by the current recession on the global labour market will persist into the post-Covid world.
Alon, T., Doepke, M., Olmstead-Rumsey, J., & Tertilt, M. (2020). The shecession (she-recession) of 2020: Causes and consequences. VoxEU, September, 22.
Alon, T., Doepke, M., Olmstead-Rumsey, J., & Tertilt, M. (2020). The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on gender equality. Covid Economics Vetted and Real-Time Papers, 4, 62-85.
International Labor Organization (2021). Fewer women than men will regain employment during the COVID-19 recovery says ILO. Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_813449/lang–en/index.htm
McKinsey & Company (2021). Seven charts that show COVID-19’s impact on women’s employment. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/seven-charts-that-show-covid-19s-impact-on-womens-employment
Sposato, M. (2021). Remote working in the time of covid-19: developing a web-based community. International Journal of Web Based Communities, 17(1), 1-8.
Wood, J. (2020). COVID-19 has worsened gender inequality. These charts show what we can do about it. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/covid-19-gender-inequality-jobs-economy/