Women’s working hours less affected by men’s during Covid – unless they are parents

A study by the Resolution Foundation finds that women’s working hours fell less than men’s during the pandemic – unless they were parents.

Woman wearing face mask in a work setting with a laptop


Women’s average working hours have taken a far smaller hit during the pandemic than men’s, with women who do not have children now working longer hours than ever before, according to new research, which finds that the opposite is true for parents.

The Resolution Foundation’s quarterly Labour Market Outlook finds that gender differences in the labour market shock caused by Covid-19 do not fit the pattern expected at the start of the crisis, with important distinctions between parents and non-parents emerging at different phases of the pandemic.

Many initial predictions were that women would face the more severe labour market hit during the pandemic. This was based, says the Foundation, on the fact that women are more likely to work in low-paying, badly-affected sectors such as retail and because women with children were more likely to be impacted by school closures.

The Foundation says that, while the situation for working mothers has been difficult, over the year of the crisis a different picture has emerged for women as a whole.

The employment rate among men has fallen by 2.4 per cent since the start of the crisis, driven by a sharp fall in self-employment, compared to a 0.8 per cent fall for women. Full-time female employment has increased over the course of the crisis.

And while working hours have generally fallen during the crisis, by the start of 2021 average working hours among women who do not have children reached a record high, up by 5 per cent since the start of the pandemic.

Taking these hours and employment trends together, the Foundation’s analysis finds that the fall in women’s total hours worked has been around one-third smaller than the fall in men’s total hours worked.

It says this is in part due to women dominating in the public sector, including in education and health where they account for 70 per cent of the workforce and where employment has remained relatively steady.

It also reflects the continuation of pre-crisis trends, says the Foundation.

However, it adds that important differences remain, particularly in regard to working parents.

In July 2020, as businesses began to reopen but schools remained closed, mothers’ working hours were down by almost a quarter (24 per cent) on their pre-crisis level, a fall four times as large as fathers (down six per cent), and almost twice as large as that of non-parents (down 13 per cent).

While the gap between mothers and fathers had largely closed by the January 2021, 18 per cent of mothers said that, on top of these reductions, they had adjusted their working patterns to accommodate childcare or home-schooling, compared to 13 per cent of fathers.

Mothers also reported during this period that their mental health had been significantly impacted by school closures – while fathers, on average, reported no impact.

The Foundation therefore says that the wider gender impact of the crisis could still change with hybrid working being a potential factor. It notes that fewer women than men say they would want to return to the office full time, which it says could damage their long-term career progression if office presence continues to influence pay rises and promotions.

Meanwhile, a report by the TUC and Race on the Agenda found that women from Black and minority ethnic groups are almost twice as likely to be on zero-hours contracts as white men and almost one and a half times more likely than white women. The report says around one in six zero hours workers are from Black and ethnic minority groups, although they only make up one in nine of the overall workforce. Moreover,  40 per cent of BAME workers on insecure contracts said they faced the threat of losing their shifts if they turned down work, compared with 25% of insecure white workers. The report calls for the banning of zero-hours contracts.

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