In the good old days, before the coronavirus pandemic, when it came to employment, women in America had achieved something like rough equality with men. In fact, in December 2019, for just the second time in history, women held a majority of the non-farm jobs in America. And, as usual, the rates of unemployment for men and women tended to run along radically similar lines. Of course, even in that pre-pandemic age, compensation was something else. For every five bucks a man was paid, a woman got less than four and a quarter.
Comes the pandemic and everything gets worse for just about everybody, but when it comes to jobs and paychecks, everything got even more worse for women. The job picture darkened… For the first time, the unemployment rate for women jumped to over 16%, almost three percentage points higher than for men. 59% of American jobs lost in March, 55% in April, were lost by women, and many of those jobs, especially the lowest-paying ones, aren’t coming back soon. And when they return, many of them will offer fewer hours, and perhaps for years to come, lower rates of pay.
This only applies to women who can return to work. The question of childcare, especially for the 19 million American kids of single mothers who are less likely these days to be handled by grandparents, could force a lot of women into unemployment.
And not just single moms, closed schools, summer and after-school programs, and sheltering grannies create childcare responsibilities that somebody in two-parent families – even in two-working-parent families – has to take on. Socio-economic research puts the odds at 3 to 2 that the heavier burden will be on the woman of the family.
Among the people who first saw this coming was our guest today, Northwestern University Professor of Economics Matthias Doepke. Way back in March, when the president was still denying Covid-19 could become a crisis, Doepke and some academic colleagues wrote, “Women and men are affected in different ways by the crisis. …In terms of the direct health impact, men appear to be at much higher risk than women. … But the pandemic is not just a health crisis; it is also a social and economic crisis, and many of the broader repercussions affect women more severely than men.”
Already government statistics suggest this is true, but how does this inequality of effect play out to the disfavor of women? And why is this happening, and what might be done to even the workplace score?
Matthias Doepke is a Professor of Economics at Northwestern University. His research deals with topics in economic growth and development, political economy, and monetary economics. Recently, he has worked on theories of demographic change, family economics, the role of political and cultural change in economic development, and redistributional effects of inflation. He is a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research , editor of the Review of Economic Dynamics, and an associate editor of the American Economic Review.