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Covid-19 Pandemic ‘Wiped Out’ Women’s Job Gains, Pushing Mental Health to the Brink

Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

The Covid-19 pandemic is proof the U.S. still lags in gender parity, with pandemic-related job losses impacting more women than men. All the extra time spent at home has saddled women with double duties, as well, fueling a disastrous mental health crisis that may last for the foreseeable future.

While many have struggled with mental health during the global pandemic, more women than men have reported mental health challenges. Approximately 57% of women said their mental health was negatively impacted because of Covid-19, compared to 44% of men, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation brief published earlier this year.

According to experts, there are two main reasons why there are more incidences of mental health illness among women than men during this unprecedented time. Job or not, women are burdened with more responsibilities at home, particularly with childcare due to school closures and at-home learning or hybrid learning. And second, women have disproportionately lost more jobs than men during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unpaid Labor at Home

While job losses mounted for women over the last year, they were also shouldering more responsibility at home during lockdown, including childcare and additional household matters. In general, women spent much more time on unpaid care work than men during lockdown, according to a U.K.-based study of 32,000 survey responses in April and May of 2020 published in PLOS One.

“Gender inequality in unpaid care work due to school closures may exacerbate persistent gender inequalities in the job market,” Baowen Xue, PhD, research associate of the Department of Epidemiology & Public Health at University College London, told The Whipp. “Increased responsibilities at home during lockdown have made it even harder for mothers to continue working, and this may have knock-ons for their return to work or further hardship as they try to juggle uncertain times ahead.”

Baowen Xue, PhD

Coupled women were responsible for 64% of housework and 63% of childcare, the study found. Compared to men, women spent 5 more hours per week on housework, and 9 hours more per week on childcare during lockdown. Additionally, mothers were more likely than fathers to reduce their working hours or change schedules to accommodate the increased time on childcare.

“I think juggling home working with homeschooling and childcare as well as extra housework is likely to lead to long-hour days and working non-standard patterns for many parents across the world,” Xue told The Whipp. “This could put a strain on parents and influence their mental health, and especially for lone parents.”

Xue and her team sought to better understand how mental health is affected by juggling homeschooling, housework and working from home during the pandemic. And while these statistics reveal burdens on women based in the U.K., Xue noted they can be extrapolated to other parts of the globe.

Even as the world continues to grapple with the ebbs and flows of the pandemic, Xue said governments and employers across the world will need to consider greater flexibility for mothers, and especially single mothers, during the pandemic.

Mental Health Crisis

Lisa Brateman, LCSW

Xue’s research sheds light on the stressors women are currently facing at home due to Covid-19, which is leading to a steep decline in their mental health.

Approximately 49% of women with children noted anxiety and/or depression, compared to 40% of men with children, according to a separate KFF report published earlier this year. Additionally, more than 25% of women are considering leaving their job or reducing hours, citing burnout and household responsibilities.

“I am seeing an increase in women starting therapy,” Lisa Brateman, LCSW, a New York City-area psychotherapist, told The Whipp. “The age-old cycle of women taking care of the kids and caring for elderly adults falls onto the shoulders of women. Although this isn't new, the additional anxiety and stress has taken a physical and emotional toll, as well as protecting yourself and family members from getting Covid-19.”

Brateman suggested various coping mechanisms to protect mental health including helping other women with childcare and homeschooling, and asking the men in their lives to “step up.”

“Women need to ask for help in today's climate and not take on the attitude that they are less than for needing help,” Brateman said. “We can't do it all, nor should we think we are failing when we can't. This year is the ultimate exception of doing things differently. The old prototype of how we got things done before doesn't exist in this environment. Perhaps this pandemic will help women move the needle in how women get the assistance needed.”

The Shecession

C. Nicole Mason, PhD

The unbalanced financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting from job losses and increased household duties for women, led economists to dub the current economic climate a “shecession” or “pink-collar recession.” By comparison, the recession in the late aughts was termed “mancession” because men lost more jobs.

A majority of the job losses during Covid-19 occurred in sectors where women tend to dominate, including leisure and hospitality, service, health services and education, according to C. Nicole Mason, PhD, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

“At the beginning of 2020, we were celebrating the fact women constituted more than 50% of the workforce,” Mason told The Whipp. “The pandemic has all but wiped-out those gains. We are now at 1980s level in terms of workforce participation among women.”

Women have lost more than 5.3 million net jobs and represent 54% of overall net job losses, according to a report filed earlier this year from the National Women’s Law Center. Moreover, the labor participation rate, or the percent of women currently employed or looking for employment is 57%––a record low that hasn’t been seen since 1988. More than 2.3 million women left the labor force since the start of the pandemic, with no indication as to whether they will return, the report also noted. By comparison, only 1.8 million men left the labor force since the start of the pandemic.

Looking toward the future

There is good news, though. Women will receive some relief in President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which provides immediate financial assistance to most families. In addition to $1,400 in relief for individuals and an increased child tax credit of up to $3,600 per child over several payments, the plan also allotts $39 billion for childcare to help working families.

However, to give women a fighting chance to recoup from the losses they faced in the workplace, more education and training opportunities for women are necessary, Mason told The Whipp. Changes in caregiving responsibilities are likely to be a rising issue as women do face an unbalanced workload at home, contributing to a decline in mental health.

“For us to get on a sustainable path to recovery, we must get the pandemic under control, schools and daycares re-opened, and ensure that women can re-enter the workforce,” Mason told The Whipp.

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