Women bear the brunt of the impact of COVID-19 on jobs

The COVID-19 crisis is distinctive in its gendered impacts across the sectors of employment. Women are over-represented among ‘essential’ workers, including in the health and care sectors, victim support services, education and food retail (EIGE, 2020c).

Their frontline status means that not only are they among those most exposed to COVID-19, but they also experience high levels of work-related stress and emotional exhaustion (Barello et al., 2020). Emerging studies point to, for example, particularly high burnout levels among women healthcare workers with children younger than 12 years, who are struggling to manage the dual burden of increased workload and more care duties (Duarte et al., 2020).

Jobs losses during the crisis have also been concentrated in sectors in which women make up the bulk of the workforce. During the first lockdown in 2020, 1.5 million women across the EU lost jobs in highly feminised and crisis-hit sectors such as the retail trade, hospitality, residential care, domestic work and clothes manufacturing (EIGE, 2021c). Most of these sectors did not recover during the year.

Although large numbers of both women and men lost their job, EIGE research (2021c) shows that it was young women, aged 15–24 years, who fared worst in the first COVID-19 wave. Among this group, employment in quarter 2 of 2020 shrank by more than 10 % compared with the same quarter in 2019; the corresponding figure for men of the same age was 9 %. Figures vary substantially across groups of women and men, with over 2 % of women and men aged 15–64 years losing their job.

According to EIGE research (2021c), recovery in the summer of 2020 brought more men than women back to the labour market. Men recovered 1.4 million jobs, women only 0.7 million. Employment growth among women aged 25–49 years was slow, at 0.3 %, while for men of comparable age the figure was more than double that, at 0.7 %. The difference underlines the major hurdles women face in returning to the labour force at any time, but which have become more challenging because of ongoing unpaid care duties during COVID-19 restrictions (Klatzer and Rinaldi, 2020).

The shallow recovery in the summer of 2020 indicates that the socioeconomic impact of the crisis might have much longer-lasting adverse effects on women than on men, especially for groups facing the greatest challenges in getting, or being able to, work (EIGE, 2021c). Data for the last quarter of 2020 confirms this. The Eurostat index of total actual hours worked reveals that time in paid jobs fell by 6.1 index points for women and by 4.3 index points for men, compared with first-quarter data[1].

Particularly worrying is the employment situation for specific groups of people, such as migrant women. The employment rates for women aged between 15 and 64 years and born outside the EU-27 dropped during the last quarter of 2020, following some recovery over the summer[2]. In contrast, employment rates for men of the same age group and born outside the EU-27 increased throughout the third and fourth quarters of 2020.