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The Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality

The Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality

COVID-19 has led to the slowdown of economic activity globally, with implications on gender equality. Quarantine, lockdown and social distancing measures lowered labour force participation rates. With the closure of schools and daycare centres, the pandemic has also placed greater pressure on women to address the increased demand for childcare, on top of other household responsibilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic, therefore, is not only a global health crisis but also an economic issue.  Prepared by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), this paper provides insights on how the economic downturn caused by COVID-18 can affect women and men differently, and its long-term effects on gender equality.


  • Factors suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a disproportionate negative effect on women and their employment opportunities.2 The effects of this shock are likely to outlast the actual epidemic.
  • The COVID-19 crisis can bring about some changes that have the potential to reduce gender inequality in the labour market in the long term.
  • The social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders imposed in many US states and other countries during the COVID-19 crisis are having a large impact on employment, leading to a sharp rise in unemployment and other workers being given reduced hours or temporarily furloughed.
  • Men’s employment is on average more concentrated in sectors with a high cyclical exposure, whereas women are highly represented in sectors with relatively stable employment over the cycle
  • In terms of their occupations, more men than women will easily adapt to the changed work environment during the crisis. Conversely, more women will potentially face loss of employment, which is the opposite of the pattern in normal economic downturns.
  • People’s ability to continue working is also affected by the increase in childcare needs during the crisis.
  • For parents who raise their children together, the division of childcare will depend on how much work flexibility each parent has in terms of working from home while also taking care of children.
  • About half of all households have some possibility to insure job loss through spousal income—either because there is already a second earner in the household, or because the spouse could enter the labour force.
  • Even among couples who both work, one spouse often provides the majority of childcare. It is likely that any increase in childcare needs will fall disproportionately on this main provider.
  • In the absence of flexible work arrangements, another likely outcome is that one spouse will temporarily have to quit work, which based on the existing division of labour would again be much more likely to be the wife.
  • The impact of the crisis will also depend on the relative flexibility of men’s and women’s work arrangements, in particular the ability to telecommute.
  • Evidence suggests that women will be vastly more affected by the rise in childcare needs that follows from closures of schools and daycare centers during the crisis.
  • Unlike regular recessions, the COVID-19 downturn is likely to reduce employment in sectors where women make up a large fraction of the workforce.
  • One central force behind the uneven division of the burden of childcare between women and men is persistent social norms.



  • Introduction
  • The Effect of COVID-19 on Employment
    • Gender Differences in Usual Downturns
    • Gender Differences Based on Sectors Most Affected by COVID-19
  • The Effect of COVID-19 on Child Care Needs
    • Household Arrangements and Single Mothers’ Exposure to School and Daycare Closures
    • Childcare Provision Within Married Couples
    • Employment Flexibility for Men vs. Women
  • The Effect of COVID-19 on Workplace Flexibility and Gender Norms
    • The Role of Workplace Flexibility
    • Existing Evidence on Persistent Changes to Gender Norms
    • Fathers’ Childcare Responsibilities During the COVID-19 Crisis and the Evolution of Gender Norms
  • Outlook and Policy Options
  • References


This report was originally published on the NBER website.



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