Pandemic Could Exacerbate Gender Inequity In Pay And Caregiver Responsibilities

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The coronavirus pandemic has the potential to exacerbate inequitable caregiver responsibilities placed on women.

Currently the gender pay gap has women earning 85 cents for every dollar that men earn. In 2018, it would take a woman 39 more days of work to accrue the same yearly earnings of a man, according to the Pew Research Center. The pandemic is resulting in companies being held less accountable in closing the wage gap. For example, in the U.K., the national government waived this year’s requirement for companies employing 250 people or more to publish how wide their gender pay gap is, according to Forbes. The lack of accountability will allow women to be further exploited in labor practices.

“We recognize that employers across the country are facing unprecedented uncertainty and pressure at this time,” the minister for women and equalities, Liz Truss, and the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, David Isaac, said in a joint-statement. “Because of this we feel it is only right to suspend enforcement of gender pay gap reporting this year.”

Women are also disproportionately dealing with the challenge of having unpaid sick leave during the pandemic. Women are more likely than men to hold part-time jobs, which in turn means women are more likely to not have paid sick leave benefits from their employer. However, despite the lack of paid leave benefits they are the individuals more likely to take off work because of childcare related responsibilities. 40% of women working outside the home responded that they take time off work when a child is sick, however only 10% of men in the same survey sample responded similarly. Additionally, 56% of women do not take in wages when they miss work as a result of childcare responsibilities.

The additional caregiver responsibilities that women face extend both inside and outside the home. Mothers are more likely than fathers to take a sick child to the doctor. 77% of mothers, compared to 24% of fathers, responded to a survey saying they are the primary person to take their child to a doctor’s appointment.

The disproportionate reliance on mothers for childcare responsibilities is a result of discriminatory norms that align each gender with preconceived societal roles. The father is typically characterized as the breadwinner and the mother is characterized as the caregiver. However, even if those norms were operationalized in a home prior to the pandemic, there is a chance that families will disrupt gender norms during the pandemic.

Some are optimistic that entire family units being quarantined will force fathers to reckon with the full extent of caregiver responsibilities that have been shouldered by one person. Government policy can also attach a dollar value to childcare responsibilities, further pushing fathers to recognize the underpaid labor of a family caregiver that also works a job. For example, the federal government could extend unemployment benefits to workers who have left their jobs because of childcare responsibilities during the pandemic.

Others believe the pandemic will help close the gender pay gap, without necessarily shifting the caregiver responsibilities more equitably. Claudia Goldin has found in her research that inflexible work arrangements has been a primary cause of the gender pay gap. Some have argued that the added flexibility will allow caregivers to jump more easily between their paid role and their role as a caregiver. This would be a regressive approach to fixing the gender pay gap. Both the gender pay gap and caregiver gap should be closed at the same time.

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