Three ways the coronavirus pandemic is affecting women more than men

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·4-min read
A woman wearing a face mask waits at a pedestrian crossing on Oxford Street in heatwave conditions in London, England, on June 25, 2020. Temperatures rose to 33C in parts of London today, in what has been one of the UK's hottest days of the year so far. Central London was nonetheless busy with shoppers this afternoon as the retail sector mounts its comeback after coronavirus lockdown restrictions on non-essential shops were eased at the beginning of last week. Among retailers, confidence is reportedly low that recovery will be swift, however, with a survey from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) today revealing fears of reduced consumer demand as well as operational challenges such as staff absences and transport difficulties. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
The coronavirus pandemic is affecting women more than men, economists have said. (David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

One of the main talking points during the UK’s coronavirus outbreak has been its unequal impact on different parts of society.

An example is the effect the pandemic is having on women.

Prof Abi Adams-Prassl, an economist from the University of Oxford, has been investigating this as part of the “COVID inequality project”.

Her evidence has been heard by the House of Commons women and equalities committee as part of an ongoing probe.

She spoke to Yahoo News UK and identified three key ways the COVID-19 fallout is affecting women more than men.

1. Childcare

“One of the key differences between this recession compared to the past,” Prof Adams-Prassl said, “is the role of school closures and the fact childcare is really disrupted at the moment.”

As part of their research, she and colleagues ran surveys asking furloughed people whether they wanted to go back to work.

Women with children were “significantly more apprehensive” about going back, she said.

The research also found women would spend an average three and a half hours on childcare on a typical day at the height of the lockdown, compared with two and a half hours by men.

With the furlough scheme set to end on 31 October, Prof Adams-Prassl said: “There needs to be some sensitivity to the end of the furloughing scheme and what’s going on with schools and childcare.

“It doesn’t seem like much has been spoken about, other than it’s ending in October, which I think could bring with it more economic issues for women.”

She added: “In the current narrative, there’s schools policy, public health policy and economic policy. If you are thinking about gender equality and the gendered outcomes of COVID, you really need to think about all of these things together.”

Meanwhile, separate research published by the Office for National Statistics last month also found the burden of home schooling fell disproportionately on women (60%), “potentially contributing to higher anxiety among women”.

2. Job losses

Prof Adams-Prassl and fellow academics found women in the UK were 5% more likely to lose their jobs than men.

Female-dominated sectors such as the retail and food industries have been among those hit hard by job losses, she said.

“Something which is very different about this recession compared to the financial crisis [of 2007/08] is that it’s female-dominated industries which have been hit harder by the lockdown and social distancing measures,” she said.

It follows research published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in early April that said women “disproportionately” work in retail and hospitality: sectors hugely impacted by the lockdown.

It said 17% of female employees were in such sectors, compared with 13% of male employees.

3. Investment in male-dominated industries

Last week, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced his “plan for jobs”. A key part of this was £5.8bn on “shovel-ready” construction projects.

Construction, according to a House of Commons report published in March, is an industry where 85% of jobs are held by men.

Prof Adams-Prassl said: “That [spending announcement] would have a bigger impact, at least in the short term, in terms of employment prospects for men.

“If you think about where a lot of job losses have been occurring – retail, restaurants, food – they are female-dominated industries, and it seems quite a big ask in the short term for people who have been made unemployed in those sectors to potentially take up opportunities where money is being shovelled in by the government with these new schemes.”

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak talks with employees during a visit to Worcester Bosch factory to promote the initiative, Plan for Jobs, in Worcester, England, Thursday July 9, 2020. (Phil Noble/Pool via AP)
Chancellor Rishi Sunak promoting his 'plan for jobs' at a factory in Worcester last week. (Phil Noble/pool via AP)

Government by men, for men?

Throughout the pandemic, Downing Street has been criticised for male-dominated decision making.

Boris Johnson’s “war cabinet” for dealing with COVID-19 consisted entirely of men: Sunak, Matt Hancock, Michael Gove and Dominic Raab.

Meanwhile, of the government’s 92 daily Downing Street press briefings between 16 March and 23 June, only three were led by a woman: Priti Patel.

In the photo provided by 10 Downing Street, Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel speaks, during a coronavirus briefing in Downing Street, London, Saturday April 25, 2020. (Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street via AP)
Home secretary Priti Patel leads a daily coronavirus briefing in Downing Street in April. (Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street via AP)

Is this government by men, for men?

Prof Adams-Prassl said: “The decisions that I have seen give you little to go on to say that hasn’t been the case. I thought the package last week was surprising in terms of how clearly gendered it was.”

She added: “The statements which came last week, I would say, are definitely favouring industries and occupations which are predominantly male-dominated as opposed to those which have been hit hardest which are predominantly female.”

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