As the epicenter of Covid-19 continues to drift around the globe, leaving death and depression in its wake, it’s become increasingly difficult for even the most naive to defend a whimsical assertion favored by the privileged in the early days of the pandemic. Coronavirus is not a great leveller. It never was.
Data made available to The New York Times earlier this month shows that Latino and African-American residents of the U.S. are three times as likely to become infected as their white neighbors. Black and Latino people are almost twice as likely to die from it. Other figures show that states with the highest level of income inequality have had a larger number of Covid-19-related deaths than states with lower inequality. And the gender divide is marked too.
This week, a study conducted by academics at the University of Kent and University of Birmingham in the U.K. shone a fresh light on the extent to which the pandemic has set back efforts toward gender parity in the workplace and placed a massive burden on parents’ – but particularly working mothers’ – mental health.
The survey of over 1,100 people, showed that the vast majority of women questioned did more cooking, cleaning, laundry, childcare and education during lockdown than before, forcing them to de-prioritize paid work more frequently than their male counterparts.
Almost half of all mothers surveyed felt “rushed and pressed for time” more than half of the time during the lockdown, and 46% felt nervous and stressed more than half of the time. Only 15% of mothers said they had managed to set clear boundaries between work and family, largely on account of the closure of schools and childcare facilities.
“It is clear that parents in particular need more support during school and childcare closures,” says Dr Heejung Chung of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, who led the study.
“There are signs that the increased workload and conflict between work and family has negatively impacted parents’ mental wellbeing, especially mothers,” she adds. “We need a thorough gendered analysis on the economic impact of the lockdown and more resources and policies are needed to support parents especially mothers’ labor market attachments.”
Biggest Setback in a Decade
This research adds to reams of existing evidence underscoring the extent to which the pandemic has chipped away at hard-earned progress towards both greater gender equality and women’s economic rights, while exacerbating an already terrifying mental health crisis.
Sofia Sprechmann, Secretary-General of humanitarian agency Care International, recently described Covid-19 as the biggest setback to gender equality in a decade. Research conducted by McKinsey has revealed that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s. The consultancy concluded that because of Coronavirus’ “regressive effect on gender equality”, 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.
Meanwhile, a United Nations Foundation report highlights that an estimated 740 million women globally work in the so-called informal economy. In developing economies, that type of work makes up 70 percent of women’s employment. Unsurprisingly, informal jobs are the first to disappear in times of economic uncertainty.
But women are also more likely to actively decide to leave the workforce than men on account of the crisis, which is perhaps to be expected considering the research from the University of Kent and University of Birmingham which lays bare the stress of trying to juggle paid work and childcare.
A separate survey conducted back in April already showed that 14% of women had considered quitting their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, as offices tentatively reopen and previously dormant parts of the economy slowly come back to life, some will be forced to sacrifice their careers if childcare facilities remain shut. They simply won’t have a choice.