1During the lockdown there were major employment losses, most notably among workers without a university education and in non-essential industries and those not suited to working from home.
2The employment rate fell by more than 20 points for both men and women, and by more than 30 points for workers without a university education.
3In two-parent families with children, women did most of the housework before the lockdown. During the lockdown the participation of men in these tasks increased very slightly.
4In one task alone, shopping, there were major changes: men came to do the shopping more than women.
This article analyses the implications of covid-19 for gender inequality in the labour market in Spain. The measures adopted in response to the health crisis may have damaged the work opportunities of women to a larger extent and accentuated the existing gender inequality (Alon et al., 2020). In order to measure the effects of the lockdown on employment and domestic chores in households, an online survey with more than 7,000 respondents was conducted in April 2020.
The main results of this survey show that the measures taken to contain the pandemic did not affect all workers equally, as their consequences were particularly severe for women. Firstly, the sector of non-essential services, such as the hospitality industry and small trading, suffered the largest employment losses. Women are amply represented in this sector and many of them were laid off temporarily or permanently. Secondly, the closure of schools and nurseries meant a drastic increase in childcare needs and the volume of housework. Traditionally, women have been the main providers of these services in the home. If gender roles within families were maintained during the lockdown, this increase in housework could be expected to have been undertaken, to a larger extent, also by women.
The data collected during the month of April make it possible to analyse the situation of families during the lockdown and to predict the implications of the crisis caused by the pandemic for gender inequality in the mid term. Data were obtained for 7,091 individuals – families with school-age children – distributed throughout all Spanish provinces, although with a clear over-representation of Catalonia, followed by Madrid and Seville. The results presented in this article refer to the subsample of households made up of an opposite-sex couple with children aged under 16 (5,209 observations). In this sample (Table 1) there is a high proportion of women (75%) and of people with a university degree (58%).
1. The lockdown brought a sharp decline in employment for women and men
First of all, the analysis addressed the distribution of employment by sectors before the lockdown (graph 1). In the sample, 24% of women and 23% of men worked in essential sectors (agriculture, energy, transport, health and veterinary activities, social services, public administration and defence). The non-essential sectors were divided into those that are suited to working from home (financial intermediation, real estate and renting, business services, education, professional, scientific and technical activities, and administrative activities) and those that are not (manufacturing, personal services, construction, retail and hospitality). Women tend to work in sectors with the option of working from home, whereas there are more men in those sectors that lack that possibility, such as construction and manufacturing.
The article then goes on to study job loss during the lockdown, whether through termination or through temporary layoff. In the sample analysed, the drop in employment rates is similar for men and women (graph 2): 24 percentage points for men and 22 for women. Job loss is much more pronounced among workers without a university education (31 percentage points) than among those with university studies (15 percentage points). As can be seen in graph 2, with the same educational level, losses were similar for men and women.
A large part of the loss of employment was in the form of temporary layoffs (graph 3). This sort of dismissal, in principle of a provisional nature, was concentrated mainly in the sector of non-essential activities without the option of working from home.
Therefore, in the sample it was detected that job loss was similar for men and women. Among those who kept their job, there were more women in jobs with a work-from-home option and more men in jobs where working from home is not an option. These finding are consistent with those obtained for other countries (Adams et al., 2020).
2. The burden of housework continued to fall mostly on women
The data on the distribution of housework between men and women before the lockdown are presented below. Graph 4 shows that women did most of the housework, in all the documented tasks. For example, on average they took care of 71% of laundry chores, and 60% of the work related to cooking and cleaning. They also undertook most of the educational activities with their children (64%). Given the characteristics of the sample, which contained a large number of women with a high educational level, the conclusion reached was that the average distribution of housework in Spain was probably even more unequal.
How did this distribution change during the lockdown? It is important to note that the closure of schools, together with the ceasing of activities of restaurants and domestic workers, meant a sizable increase in the volume of housework to be done. Nevertheless, graph 5 shows that hardly any changes took place in household task-sharing between men and women. Women continued to undertake most of the domestic chores during the lockdown, despite a minor increase in male participation in these tasks.
There is one exception to this general pattern: shopping. Before the lockdown, women took care of the shopping to a greater extent than men. This distribution was reversed during the lockdown, shopping thus becoming the only activity in which, on average, men did more work.
Educational activities with children, which increased in volume during the state of alarm, continued to be carried out mainly by the mothers (62%), as was the case with cleaning, laundering and cooking.
As can be seen in graph 6, the increase in male participation in housework during the lockdown was larger among men with a medium to low educational level, whose partners worked in essential services, and who had children under the age of six. However, even in these families, the women continued to take care of most of the housework, except shopping. On the other hand, participation in housework was lower among men with a university education, with children over the age of six, and with partners who worked in non-essential sectors suited to working from home. In any event, male participation in the home increased slightly, by barely four percentage points.
The changes that took place during the state of alarm are summed up in graph 7, which shows the gender gap in the distribution of housework before the lockdown and during this period.
The results of the survey show that the employment loss caused by the state of alarm affected both men and women. It is also found that women, to a greater extent than men, continued to carry out their economic activity from home. In addition, minor changes are observed in the distribution of housework, although women continued to be mainly in charge of all domestic tasks except shopping.
This evidence suggests that women had to bear a double burden during the lockdown: more work from home, combined with an increase in the volume of housework. Nevertheless, it is important to emphasise that only the situation of two-parent families was documented, and it follows that the situation of single mothers, unable to share the extra workload, must have been even more complicated.
The results of the survey paint an unoptimistic picture of the impact of the pandemic on gender inequality in the short term. The presence of strong social norms as regards the roles of men and women may have contributed to the unequal distribution of the drastic increase in housework, especially when both partners had the option of working from home. However, in some families in which the woman was unable to opt for working from home, the man may have taken the role of primary caregiver during the state of alarm. In such families, the pandemic may have forced a shift in gender roles that will need to be analysed in the future.
ADAMS-PRASSL, A., T. BONEVA, M. GOLIN and C. RAUH (2020). Inequality in the Impact of the Coronavirus Shock: Evidence from Real Time Surveys. IZA Institute of Labor Economics.
ALON, T., M. DOEPKE, J. OLMSTEAD-RUMSEY and M. TERTILT (2020). "The Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality", Covid Economics: Vetted and Real-Time Papers, 4, 62-85.
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