Pandemic 'pushing women to the sidelines' of the economy

Pandemic 'pushing women to the sidelines' of the economy

During the pandemic women were 1.4 times more likely to be looking for work than men. File photo: iStock

There are concerns that that Covid-19 is "pushing more women to the sidelines" as a new study has found women are much more likely than men to be looking for work since the pandemic began.

The findings have negative consequences on gender equality in the State, the authors said. Due to the public health restrictions put in place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, large parts of society and the economy were shut down, resulting in almost record levels of unemployment.

As restrictions have lifted, employment levels have increased, but researchers have found that women are “more acutely” affected in this regard than men. In 2020, women were 1.4 times more likely to say they were looking for a job than men, if people of a similar age and background were compared.

Researchers from Cork University Business School and NUI Galway analysed survey data on men and women in 32,500 households from 2002 to the end of 2020.

They then adjusted the raw data to compare men and women of similar employment status, level of education, occupation and age to see how Covid affected the jobs market.

Speaking at the British Sociological Association online conference on work on Wednesday, the researchers will outline how they found that from 2002 to 2020, on average, women were more likely than men to be looking for work.

However, this figure rose during the pandemic so that during 2020 women were 1.4 times more likely to be looking for work than men. The chances of women being unemployed but not looking for work in 2020 fell by almost a half from the average figure for 2002-2020, as a result of increasing job losses.

The researchers also found that during 2020 unemployed women aged 55 to 64 were much more likely to have stopped looking for work, compared with younger working women. This contrasted with the financial crisis of 2008, when they had increased employment largely through part-time work.

Dr Maeve O’Sullivan, one of the authors of the report, said that, unlike previous crises, the pandemic affected women’s unemployment more acutely than men’s.

“This has resulted in a ‘she-cession’ that emphasises the worrying and retrograde impact that this crisis is having on gender equality in an Irish context,” she said.

“Covid-19 impacted Irish society and its economy at a time when the country had finally recovered from the great recession, with female employment at higher levels than pre-recessionary times.” 

Dr O’Sullivan said the economic sectors most severely affected by the lockdown measures had high proportions of the female labour force.

“During the Covid-19 crisis, women comprise over 70% of essential workers and are employed in sectors initially impacted by the national lockdown,” she said.

“In the longer term, there is significant concern among academics, employers and policymakers as to whether women will return to paid employment post-pandemic, given that some jobs no longer exist.” 

She added the findings "offer preliminary and worrying indications" the pandemic could "push more women to the sidelines”.

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