The UN Women Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia stated, “Everything [women have] worked for, that has taken 25 years, could be lost in a year.” The relentless nature of COVID-19 has put an alarming amount of people out of work, and the majority of the unemployed workforce are women. Of the more than one million workers ages 20 and over who left the workforce as of September 2020, 85.6% were women. Leading causes as to why women are leaving the workforce are childcare and family obligations. As our culture has traditionally seen these roles as a woman’s responsibility, it is easy for society to fall back on old habits and traditions. Even apart from the pandemic, studies still estimate that for every one hour of unpaid work by men, women in the household do three times as much.
Since the women’s rights movement began in the 1960s, the fight continues to change America’s cultural norms by empowering women to become educated and independent. From this revolution, the wage gap between men and women has decreased significantly since the 1960s because of cultural shifts. For the past 20 years, women have outpaced men in college attendance and degrees. Additionally, 49% of employed women in the United States, including 42% of working mothers, say they are their family’s main source of income. Although women are more educated and more employed than ever, societal gender norms still expect a woman to be a daughter, mother, or wife before being a professional.
The UN warned this ripple effect of fewer women in the workforce, “will be dire to not only women’s wellbeing but their economic progress and independence.” According to a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, an employment gap of just one year leads to a 39% decrease in annual earnings. This reduces women’s chances of breaking the glass ceiling and becoming future leaders in our society. Additionally, many women have lost unemployment insurance benefits due to their obligation to leave work, even if it was due to lack of childcare options. Of those women who remained, one in four were considering reducing hours, looking for less-demanding jobs, or planning to leave the workforce altogether. The scars from this pandemic will linger, especially as it relates to the consequences for the financial stability of women.
Times are changing, but the need for caregivers in the home will always exist. In order to stop diminishing the growth and employment opportunities of those women carrying the care burden, congress and businesses must double down on implementing progressive work-family policies. In the words of the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”
Chauhan, P. Gendering COVID-19: Impact of the Pandemic on Women’s Burden of Unpaid Work in India. Gend. Issues (2020).
Brooks, Kim. Feminism Has Failed Women: If the pandemic undid three decades of progress on gender equality, one has to wonder: How real was that progress in the first place? (Dec. 23, 2020)
Sandrine, L and Butterly, A. Coronavirus and gender: More chores for women set back gains in equality. (Nov. 26 2020)
Sodha, S. Is the pandemic sending us back to the 1950s when it comes to taking care of the home? (Jun. 21, 2020)
Collins C, Landivar LC, Ruppanner L, Scarborough WJ. COVID-19 and the gender gap in work hours. Gender Work Organ. 2020;1–12. https://doi.org/10.1111/gwao.12506