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Women May Feel the Economic & Cultural Impact of The Coronavirus More Than Men, Study Shows

Beyond the health impact of the Coronavirus, the global community has been concerned about the impact of the pandemic on the world’s economy. Experts are projecting that this pandemic may lead to another global economic crisis, the likes of the meltdown of 2008.

Already, unemployment rate globally seems to be rising. Companies are cutting cuts to accommodate the financial losses from the pandemic; the stock market has plummeted downwards to levels not witnessed in years. Global lock downs and travel ban across major cities around the world is leading to huge losses for many businesses and industries who have had to halt operations, in turn, halting revenue generation by the millions.

Economists have raised serious concerns for the future as the days in quarantine continue to expand.

However, a new study by researchers at Northwestern University, the University of Mannheim in Germany and the University of California, San Diego shows that unlike the financial crash of 2008, this downturn will likely lead to more job losses for women than men.

“The Covid-19 pandemic will have a disproportionate negative effect on women and their employment opportunities,” the researchers explain.

The paper however suggests that the shift in workplace culture and increased flexibility — catalyzed by Covid-19 — may also promote gender equality in the long run.

Matthias Doepke, an economics professor at Northwestern University and one of the authors of the research paper, speaking to Alisha Haridasani Gupta, a journalist at the New York Times, explained the economic consequences of the virus for women and what the recovery might look like.

“We know that regular recessions have an uneven impact on women and men, but in the opposite direction. In all major recessions, including the financial recession 10 years ago, many more men lose their jobs. This has to do with two things: Usually the most affected sectors are things like construction and manufacturing, which are male-dominated. And the second thing is this notion of “insurance in the family,” that some married women decide to actually work more during a recession to make up for the job loss of the husband” Doepke explained.

“But in this downturn, already you can see that it’s quite different. The sectors that are going to be most affected — for example, the restaurants, which are all closed, or the travel sector — have fairly high female employment. More women will lose jobs” he adds.

“But the much bigger thing for most people who live with children is the extra child care needs — everybody with young kids has to provide all of the child care all of a sudden. And we argue that the vast majority of this extra work will fall on women, therefore making it difficult for them to work as usual” Doepke narrates.

Regarding the possibility of cultural change in the long run, Doepke explains that “Big crises have the potential to bring about cultural change. World War II was a bit like that because, for the first time, many married women with children joined the labor force, and there’s a lot of research showing this had a really persistent impact on social norms”.

In this scenario Doepke clarified that “There’s some potential for that here from two quite different perspectives. One is from the perspective of the employers. Many businesses are adopting work-from-home policies, and that’s going to stick”.

“These businesses are going to invest in the technology, they’re going to learn how to do this, they’re going to see that there’s some advantage to this. And we expect that this added flexibility is going to stay — not completely — but to a large extent after the crisis. It’s really a benefit to everybody, to all families, but given that right now mothers bear the burden of child care, in a relative sense, they’re going to benefit from that” Doepke enlightened.

Adding to the above, he explained that “The other side of this is the cultural norms side. Whenever you look at the division of labor in the household, it’s really not just that whoever earns more works more. A lot has to do with cultural expectations. For example, in couples where the wives may have a higher income than the husbands, they often still do the majority of the child care”.

“So even though on average women will do most of this additional child care right now, for many couples it’s going to be the other way around, probably for the first time. If the wife works in medicine, for example, or in some other essential sector where she can’t work from home, then just by necessity the father will be the main provider of child care” Doepke said, providing deep insight.

“Research does suggest that even these temporary changes have quite a persistent effect. We cite a study from Spain where they introduced a leave specifically for fathers, just two weeks, to take care of a newborn child, and found that men ended up doing more of the child care in the future” he concluded.

Only a few weeks ago, reports showed that more men were dying from the virus than women, and we wondered how this global pandemic may truly redefine the economic status’ and cultural norms for many families. By the look of things, we might see women feel the positive and negative impact of these changes for many years to come. We look forward to the end of the crisis and anticipate the changes that would follow in our daily lives, especially as women.


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