The Disproportionate Effects of COVID-19 On Women

Raina Carfaro, Scarlet Staff


We have been in the Pandemic for over seven months. In our country alone, 7.6 million have been infected, 210,000 people have died, and millions have been left unemployed. Not only is the country an economic and emotional wreck, but women have carried the brunt of it.

Before the pandemic sent the United States into lockdown, we had been experiencing the lowest unemployment rate since the Great Recession of 2008, thanks to economic policies set by the Obama administration that steadily decreased unemployment and increased GDP growth. In between the months of March and April of this year, the unemployment rate went from 4.4% to 14.7% – the highest rate since the Great Depression. According to the Wall Street Journal, between 20 and 40 million jobs have been lost, with about 20 million people filing for Unemployment benefits at the peak of the shutdown. A very large proportion of the people who have lost their jobs are women of color. While unemployment, as of September has dropped to around 7%, around a million people have left the workforce. This means they are not looking for work or not working. According to research conducted by the National Women’s Law Center, over 800,000 women were left unemployed due to the Virus. There are many reasons why this may be, but a resounding factor is the unrecognized emotional and economic burden that women are expected to carry for entire family pods. Despite many women maintaining the most reliable income of their respective family units, they are paid  less than their male counterparts, especially if they are Black, Latinx or indigenous. Alisha Haridasani Gupta of the New York Times said “across the globe, women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs, are more likely to be employed in the informal sector. They have less access to social protections and are the majority of single-parent households. Their capacity to absorb economic shocks is therefore less than that of men.” Many of the jobs most affected by the pandemic are those in female-dominated industries like hospitality, education, service and entertainment.

Women are expected to sacrifice their lives for their families and are expected to do so without fair pay or equal division of housework. A study by the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics determined full-time working women spend 21 hours on average on housework every single week. Additionally, on an average day, just 20 percent of men did any housework at all, compared with 49 percent of women. The current expectation is for a household to have two employed adults. When only one of those adults is a woman, they work just as much as the man but do twice as much cooking and cleaning. Women also emotionally support their families and are socially pressured to be the main child caregiver. Women are expected to be active and involved mothers, while men are applauded for being merely present fathers, more often than not, doing the bare minimum Women who work face severe societal shame, but will be judged if they decide to stay at home with the children. Women who chose to work fulltime and focus on their careers don’t prioritize their family enough, while stay at home mothers will be demonized for ‘playing into the patriarchy’. Women have to deal with these double standards and cycles of shame while also being demeaned and undervalued in the workforce.

Of 40,000 women surveyed by the Lean In and McKinsey & Company, 1 in 4 were considering resigning from their current position or downshifting their career to make it more time manageable and less demanding. Many of the women who stepped back from their careers under the pandemic are white women. There is a great amount of privilege in being able to step back from one’s career, as many less fortunate women are responsible for the survival of their families and maintain multiple jobs at once. It’s not unfair for people to take time off for their mental health, but it is unfair that this is an opportunity for a privileged few. People should not only be able to live off of one job, but everyone should be able to receive a fair and balanced work schedule that pays them their due. The impacts of COVID-19 are just further examples of the ways America exploits working women, endangers them, and then ignores the repercussions and pleas for help.