“Really, it’s not just one thing.”
– Matthias Doepke, economist at Northwestern, on the causes of the global “sell-off”
In Her Words is available as a newsletter. Sign up here to receive it in your inbox.
After more than a year of intermittent school and daycare closures around the world, there is no doubt who has borne the brunt of the burden of caregiving: mothers. We have seen mothers working in their tubs with their children playing nearby; we have seen children interrupting their mothers on live television; we have heard mothers screaming into the void.
As a result, millions of women – especially those with children – were either kicked out of their jobs or forced to cut their careers, spurring what many economists call the world’s first “demise”.
In the United States, White House policy advisers and members of Congress have presented the huge job losses of women as an urgent reason to increase investments in child care to historic proportions, which, according to them, will revive the recovery.
But a new study released in April by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which analyzed employment figures in 28 developed countries in North America and Europe, presents a more nuanced picture of the damage. The sudden collapse of childcare indeed shook the global economy, but the authors note that other factors, such as job protection or the ability to work remotely, played an equally important role in overall employment of women.
The economic damage was worse for women in almost all of the countries analyzed: the supply of women in the labor force, relative to men, fell in 18 of the 28 countries. But gender gaps in employment have widened most in Canada and the United States, said Matthias Doepke, study author and economist at Northwestern University.
Part of the disproportionate impact on women globally was, undoubtedly, related to the scale of school closures. Schools have been closed the longest in the United States and Canada (where female employment has been worst), for a total of 52 weeks and 43 weeks to date, respectively, according to data from the UNESCO, the United Nations agency for education.
Meanwhile, in France, schools were closed for a total of 11 weeks, and female job losses were among the lowest of the 28 countries analyzed, Mr Doepke added. However, France also found itself with higher Covid-19 infection and death rates than other European countries.
Another place where unemployment remained low for both men and women was Germany, Doepke noted, although school closures there totaled 30 weeks.
A critical difference between the United States and Germany (as well as several other countries in Europe) is the extensive leave programs, in which workers remained employed and received subsidized paychecks while working hours reduced or not at all. Often these paychecks were higher for parents.
In Germany, for example, “very few people lost a job, ”Doepke explained, but when comparing hours worked across countries, Germany had one of the biggest gender gaps.
There is little consensus among economists on whether holidays, more generally, are a better tool in times of crisis than laying off workers. Leave can be seen as a barrier for workers who might otherwise seek better paying opportunities, because when workers are on leave they are often tied to a specific job.
But the job cuts have “an extremely destabilizing effect on the person who was made redundant and on their family,” said Sandra Sucher, professor at Harvard Business School and author of an upcoming book, “The Power of Trust. “.
Job cuts are also slowing economic recovery, Ms. Sucher added, and plenty of research suggests that when women lose their jobs, it takes them longer to re-enter the workforce.
One of the most unexpected findings of Dr. Doepke’s study is that among major developed countries, including the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, the gender gap in economic participation s t is more pronounced among parents with school-aged children than among those with younger children.
“It surprised us,” he said, “because at first we thought that with pre-kindergarten children the childcare needs are the highest,” he said. he declares. “A good interpretation of this gap is that, overall, a good number of mothers are already inactive for the first three years or so of their child.
In the United States, even before the pandemic, many mothers with young children were forced out of the workforce largely because of the lack of paid parental leave and the lack of affordable and accessible quality child care. During the pandemic, those who had young children and continued to work likely held jobs that were not terribly affected by the recession or could afford to employ nannies, Doepke added.
Yet, according to Doepke’s analysis, the lack of childcare support during the pandemic explains less than 20 percent of the job losses for women compared to men.
The biggest indicator of job losses for American women over the past year was actually whether they could work from home in the first place. Among mothers of preschool children who could not working remotely, their hours fell almost 18 percentage points more than fathers. But for mothers who could working remotely, the gap was between two and three percentage points.
Another economic study, published in 2013, suggested that policies such as paid parental leave and flexible part-time hours also affect women’s participation in the labor market. The study found that the absence of family-friendly policies was responsible for an almost 30% drop in female labor market participation in the United States between 1990 and 2010, compared to more than 20 other countries.
Interestingly, in this pandemic, “we are also seeing a big drop in women who are not currently having children,” Doepke said. “So really, it’s not just one thing.”
Access to childcare services is only part of the equation, but so are flexibility in the workplace, caregiving responsibilities of aging parents or even cultural norms. kind.
“It’s a mixed picture,” Doepke said.