Unpaid care workloads and social isolation affect well-being

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected individuals’ opportunities as regards time use and space. Multiple lockdowns, movement restrictions, the closure of leisure and educational facilities and an unprecedented shift to teleworking resulted in millions of people in the EU spending virtually all their time at home. For those caring for others, the situation has led to acute trade-offs in dividing time between paid work, care duties and leisure activities (EIGE, 2021c).

With restrictions largely preventing external care services or help from grandparents, friends and neighbours, care has been provided mainly from within the family. The introduction of home schooling as a new and additional form of unpaid work for parents (see Chapter 4) affected families with young children the most (Eurofound, 2021b).

As a result, spending more time on unpaid care duties has caused acute work–life tensions for women and men (Craig and Churchill, 2020; EIGE, 2020b, 2020g, 2021c; Eurofound, 2021c; European Commission, 2021a).

Although the pandemic has led to a modest increase in time spent by men on unpaid care, particularly fathers who lost jobs and men in couples with women in essential work (EIGE, 2021c), the impact has been dramatic on mothers of children younger than 12 years, lone mothers and women engaged in informal care (Eurofound, 2021b).

A survey by Eurocarers[1], the leading network of informal carers in the EU, and composed overwhelmingly of women, has revealed a 17 % increase in the weekly care workload, that care is more intense and that more people are becoming informal carers (European Commission, 2021h).

The ensuing strain is reflected in low levels of life satisfaction among families with children (Eurofound, 2021b). Women in particular consistently had lower levels of mental well-being across the three pandemic waves (see Figure 48). The lowest levels of well-being were among women aged 18–34 years and 35–49 years during the third wave (42 points).

Social isolation and increased time spent at home, combined with health and financial stressors, are thought to account for a surge in intimate partner violence (EIGE, 2021a; Šimonović, 2020; WHO, 2020b) and child abuse (Calvano et al., 2021; Katz, 2021) during the pandemic.