Unequal burden: how the COVID-19 pandemic is adding to women’s workloads

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Alex Thornton, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • COVID-19 restrictions mean both men and women spend longer doing jobs around the home.
  • Women have seen a larger increase in unpaid work than men.
  • Evidence shows that COVID-19 is reinforcing traditional social and cultural gender norms.
  • A new report for UN Women analyses data from 38 countries around the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic downturn it has caused, have hit everyone hard. But the impact has not been spread equally. A new report by UN Women has found clear evidence that, although both genders have seen their unpaid workloads increase, women are bearing more of the burden than men.

a chart showing how childcare is divided between men and women
Women still do much more than men. Image: “Whose time to care?”, UN Women

Even before the pandemic, women were spending on average three times as many hours as men on domestic chores, childcare and looking after vulnerable or elderly loved ones. Widespread restrictions on daily life, school closures, disruption to businesses and a big rise in working from home have made many tasks more time-consuming and arduous.

As the following charts show, more women than men have reported an increase in their workload in almost every aspect of domestic life.

Putting in the extra hours

The data also shows more men saying that they usually don’t do a particular task.

The average woman now spends nearly the equivalent of a full-time job doing unpaid childcare – a full working day a week more than the average man. —“Whose time to care?”, UN Women

Nearly a third of women report spending more time cooking and serving meals, compared to just under a fifth of men. Half of all men say they don’t normally get involved in preparing food at all.

a chart showing the division of domestic labour
Women are more likely to increase the time spent on household chores. Image: “Whose time to care?”, UN Women

A similar picture emerges when looking at childcare. Research for UN Women carried out by Ipsos in 16 countries showed that before the pandemic women spent an average of 26 hours per week looking after children, compared to 20 hours a week for men. That has now risen by 5.2 hours for women, and just 3.5 hours for men. As a result, the average woman now spends nearly the equivalent of a full-time job doing unpaid childcare – a full working day a week more than the average man.

a chart showing how childcare differs by sex across countries
The time spent on childcare, as divided by sex, differs across countries. Image: “Whose time to care?”, UN Women

And as the chart shows, there are big regional differences. Although every nation surveyed showed a rise, the effects were most pronounced in less affluent countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa, compared to wealthier countries.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.How can we collaborate to stop the spread of COVID-19?

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

Like mother, like daughter

The pandemic has reaffirmed the persistence of gender bias in social and cultural norms. All but a small fraction of men acknowledge that their wives or partners are doing more around the house, while just two-thirds of women say the same of their husbands or partners.

Perhaps more concerning for gender equality in the future is that parents are more likely to notice their daughter doing more to help than their sons.

a pie chart showing how women do more
Women bare the heaviest burden. Image: “Whose time to care?”, UN Women

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a profound sense of urgency for companies to actively work to tackle racial injustice and inequality. In response, the Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society has established a high-level community of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers. The community will develop a vision, strategies and tools to proactively embed equity into the post-pandemic recovery and shape long-term inclusive change in our economies and societies.

As businesses emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, they have a unique opportunity to ensure that equity, inclusion and justice define the “new normal” and tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity. It is increasingly clear that new workplace technologies and practices can be leveraged to significantly improve diversity, equity and inclusion outcomes.

The World Economic Forum has developed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Toolkit, to outline the practical opportunities that this new technology represents for diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, while describing the challenges that come with it.

The toolkit explores how technology can help reduce bias from recruitment processes, diversify talent pools and benchmark diversity and inclusion across organisations. The toolkit also cites research that suggests well-managed diverse teams significantly outperform homogenous ones over time, across profitability, innovation, decision-making and employee engagement.

The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Toolkit is available here.

A reversal of progress made?

The overall effect is that the gradual progress towards gender equality seen in recent decades could not only stall, but be reversed.

Already more than 28 million women over the age of 25 are estimated to have left the labour market altogether in 55 high- and middle-income countries over the last year, compared to 24 million men. Given that women were already less likely to be in the workforce, this represents a serious threat to the economic status of huge numbers of women. On a global scale, it’s thought the pandemic will push a further 47 million women and girls into extreme poverty by 2021.

Despite the clear evidence that women are disproportionately suffering economically from the effects of the pandemic, the vast majority of measures that have been enacted by policy-makers do little to address the increased burden on women.

However, there are some notable exceptions: increases in monthly child allowance payments in places like Argentina, expanding paid parental leave programmes in Italy and Belgium, and providing extra support for childcare either by keeping crèches and nurseries open (as in Australia) or compensating parents affected by closures (as in Germany and South Korea).

Perhaps the biggest step would be simply recognizing the value of the unpaid domestic and caring work done by women, pandemic or not. The 16 billion hours spent on unpaid caring every day would represent nearly a tenth of the world’s entire economic output if it was paid at a fair rate. Women were grossly undervalued before the pandemic – now the situation is getting even worse.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

EU Civil Protection Mechanism must be sufficiently funded to save lives

The power of digital tools to transform mental healthcare

A Year in China

GSMA Outlines New Developments For MWC19 Shanghai

“Our house is on fire.” 16 year-old Greta Thunberg wants action

FROM THE FIELD: Conversations about Conservation

The Amazon is reaching a dangerous tipping-point. We need to scale solutions now if we have any chance of saving it

How we measure stakeholder capitalism will determine our recovery

UN underscores the need to celebrate indigenous peoples, not confine them

South Sudan famine threat: UN food security agency in ‘race against time’

Parliament seals 2014 EU budget and the spending ceiling until 2020

How COVID-19 is taking gaming and esports to the next level

DR Congo: Restore internet services as ‘a matter of urgency’, urges UN expert

COVID-19 put 1.6 billion children out of school. Here’s how to upgrade education post-pandemic

Historic first, as Tolstoy’s War and Peace lands in Geneva, to mark international centenary

Groundbreaking cancer-fighting drugs now included in updated UN list of essential medicines

What the Women’s World Cup can teach us about capitalism

Why remote working doesn’t have to mean alienated employees

What’s an ‘essential service’? Not knowing could block access to key digital services during COVID

Summer 2019 Economic Forecast: Growth clouded by external factors

One-third of Afghans need urgent humanitarian aid, millions suffer ‘acute food insecurity’

Antitrust: Commission consults stakeholders on a possible new competition tool

Disease slashing global meat output, cereals boom, bananas under watch: FAO

DiscoverEU: 20,000 more young people will explore Europe in 2020

‘No safe way’ into battle-scarred Afghan city of Ghazni to deliver aid as traumatized children search for parents

China-EU Special Report: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang endorses China’s big investment on Juncker’s plan at 10th China-EU Business Summit

This Japanese town has banned urban sprawl

EU to relocate 40,000 migrants across the bloc: first step of a long due substantial reform?

How the inventor of the internet plans to make it safe and accessible for everyone

Auditors say EU spending delivers limited value for money but the timing of their report poses questions

What just happened? 5 themes from the COP24 climate talks in Poland

Human trafficking: stronger measures to protect women, children and migrants

How regenerative agroforestry could solve the climate crisis

Two-thirds of global drug deaths now from opioids: UN drugs report

Agreement reached on new EU Solidarity Corps

Google’s bare truth: Europe’s Chief denies EU accusations but admits they “don’t always get it right”

State aid: Commission approves Luxembourg guarantee measure to further support economy in coronavirus outbreak

Nagorno-Karabakh: EU allocates additional €3 million in humanitarian aid for conflict-affected civilians

State aid: Commission approves €24.7 million of Italian support to compensate Alitalia for further damages suffered due to coronavirus outbreak

This 3D-printed steak could help us reduce meat consumption

Powering through the pandemic

Why your next work meeting should be a ‘walk-and-talk’

4 eco-friendly products put sustainable spins on classic practices, from teacups to hankies

Parliament closes legal loophole to stop excessive Ukrainian chicken imports

FROM THE FIELD: South Sudan’s green shoots, highlight environmental recovery from war

6 ways countries can prepare for the next infectious disease pandemic

UN rights expert ‘strongly recommends’ probe by International Criminal Court into ‘decades of crimes’ in Myanmar

Global Citizen-Volunteer Internships

The Bavarians threaten Berlin and Brussels with immigration crisis

EU Member States test their cybersecurity preparedness for free and fair EU elections

With the right leadership, sustainable finance can help us shift to a low-carbon economy

More people now plan to get a COVID-19 vaccine than in December

How to provide health education and thus create better health systems

Mental health during COVID-19 outbreak: who takes care of health professionals?

IMF: All you want to know about Argentina

ICC Appeals Chamber acquits former Congolese Vice President Bemba from war crimes charges

Skills: Five new cross-border collaboration projects selected for Erasmus+ funding to develop excellence in vocational training in Europe

LGBTQI+ and medicine

Syria: UN chief warns Idlib offensive may set off ‘humanitarian catastrophe’

YouTube stars get creative at UN, to promote tolerance

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s