Empowering Women Worldwide

COVID-19. Yet another challenge

By: Daniel Ebner, FHJ Austria

When the COVID-19 virus first caused alarming news and forced cities into a lockdown only in China in January, many probably could not have imagined or did not want to believe that it would hit many of us in the same way in the long run.

To this day, COVID-19 has had a major impact on economies around the world.The crisis with disrupted supply chains has weighed on exports in many countries, but also on private consumption. Curfews, closed borders and stores have severely impacted economic life from mid-March 2020 at the latest.The measures taken to contain the COVID-19 pandemic have had a massive impact on services and production. This impact is reflected in the level of unemployment and underemployment. Many people were to lose their jobs as the economy came mostly to a standstill.

Since gender inequality has long been part of the discussion about unemployment and underemployment, the question is whether and how COVID-19 affects it.By now, the extent to which COVID-19and its associated changes affect women and men isalready being addressed by both researchers and the media.

In October, the Austrian news agency DER STANDARD (2020) reported that more women than men lost their jobs in Austria during the crisis. While the unemployment rate for men was higher than that for women from January to March, the unemployment rate for women increased from April onward. They also reported that the pay gap, i.e., the difference in gross hourly earnings between women and men, amounts to 19.6 percent, although this is not only attributable to the crisis.

Collins et al. (2020) have found that many working parents have changed their work schedules to meet the demands of increasing caregiving responsibilities. They base their study on population data from the U.S. and examine the changes to work hours from fathers and mothers from February through April 2020. Their results suggest that mothers, especially those with younger children, reduced their working hours significantly more than fathers, by about four to five times. Resulting in an increase of the gender gap in work hours of 20 to 50 percent.

Muric et al. (2020) specifically investigated the impact COVID-19 has on gender disparities in the field of research by looking at proportions of published scientific papers between men and women researchers. The papers results indicate that the proportions of female authors publishing have decreased from 4.9 percent to as much as 44.5 percent (depending on the field of research as well on the fact if they are named as the first author or as the author regardless of authorship order).

Chauhan (2020) analyzed the upsurge of unpaid chores caused by the crisis in households in India, finding that the responsibility for them falls disproportionally on women. Based on a two-stage approach including a survey and qualitative interviews they investigated the burden of unpaid household chores before and after the lockdown along determinants such as marital status and employment status. They found the highest increase in time spent on unpaid work among married and unemployed women (about 22.5% of married women and 30.5% of unemployed women) who spent more than 70 hours per week on unpaid work during the lockdown.

On a more positive note, Alon et al. (2020) find that despite the crisis having persistent effects on working mothers, there might be an upside to it as well. In their paper they look at the effect of COVID-19 on:

  • Employment
  • Child Care Needs and
  • Workplace Flexibility and Gender Norms

They argue that businesses adopting more flexible work arrangements and the fact that many fathers now have to take care of childcare, may act as opposing forces promoting gender equality on the long run.

The above examples are relatively recent research findings or news stories, so caution should be exercised when drawing conclusions or making policy decisions, but it goes to show, that COVID-19 most likely has yet another negative impact on challenges that women have to face in their employment. This confirms the importance and encourages us in our efforts – such as the RAINBOW project –to support women’s careers and close the gender gap.


Alon, T., Doepke, M., Olmstead-Rumsey, J., & Tertilt, M. (2020). The Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality (No. w26947; p. w26947). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Chauhan, P. (2020). Gendering COVID-19: Impact of the Pandemic on Women’s Burden of Unpaid Work in India. Gender Issues.

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