The disproportionately negative labour market developments for women can be explained partly through sectoral composition of the shock and also by the care burden that fell disproportionately on women as childcare facilities and schools were closed during the pandemic. Lockdowns more strongly affected service-sector jobs - such as in retail, hospitality and food service - that are predominantly held by women.2 High-income countries that had increased vaccine availability, among other pandemic recovery strategies, were able to reopen the service sector more quickly and have experienced a relatively speedier recovery of working hours for women since the first quarter of 2021.3
The other determining factor has been the distribution of care work during the pandemic. Time-use surveys carried out in the United Kingdom, United States and Germany show that women disproportionately carried the burden of home-schooling and additional childcare.4 A US study suggests that during the first COVID-19 wave in June 2020, 12.7% of mothers versus only 2.8% of fathers were not working due to virus-related childcare issues.5 Since then, research suggests there are multiple trends emerging in mothers' vs fathers' labour market outcomes as a consequence of the pandemic. As a result, the last two years have seen a relatively greater reduction for mothers in working hours, an increase in unemployment, as well as relatively greater drops in labour-force participation. According to the ILO, more than 2 million mothers globally left the labour force over the course of 2020.6 While both fathers and mothers saw reductions in labour-force participation during the peak of the pandemic, in the United States fathers had effectively made up the ground lost during the pandemic by November 2020, while US mothers' labour-force participation rate was 2.8 percentage points below where it was in November 2019.7 This represented a minimal 0.1 percentage point recovery for mothers in the United States, compared to the initial 2.9 percentage point drop recorded in April 2020.
The difference in unpaid care work distribution between men and women had been significant well before the pandemic. Based on an analysis of 33 countries representing 54% of the global working-age population, we find that men's share of time spent in unpaid work as a proportion of time spent in total work is 19%. This is one-third the share of time women spent in unpaid work (as a proportion of total work), which is 55%.8 Recent data collected during the pandemic shows that the reported increases in care work caused by school and care infrastructure closures created pronounced disparities. Women with children under six years of age, for example, absorbed a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work compared to men, as represented in Figure 2.5.