The multiple and intersecting health, social and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated existing gender gaps and deepened the vulnerability of women and girls in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). In previous #GraphForThought posts I have discussed how women have been disproportionately affected, for example, through an increase in domestic and gender-based violence and through a slower recovery of labor market outcomes. This post revisits the question of how COVID-19 has deepened pre-existing gender inequalities in the labor market, but uses additional data on household composition to explore this issue in greater depth.
While LAC has made moderate improvements in labor market outcomes in recent decades, COVID-19 risks much of this progress. Indeed, studies estimate that the pandemic could set back female labor force participation in LAC by approximately ten years. One reason is that women have a higher labor force participation rate than men in many of the sectors that have been most negatively impacted by the crisis, such as commerce, education, domestic work, and tourism. Another reason is the way that traditional gender norms have unfairly burdened women with an even greater share of unpaid domestic work and caregiving activities during this time (compounded, for example, by new demands such as remote home-schooling of children, caregiving responsibilities during remote working hours, and/or reduced access to previously relied upon support services such as family members, domestic workers, schools, or care facilities). It is taking a toll on not only women’s (and particularly mothers’) time but also their broader well-being. For example, a study that analyzes the effects of the pandemic on teleworking circumstances in Mexico shows a disproportionate impact on women’s emotional well-being, the chronic exhaustion of mothers who telework, and the overload in household chores and caregiving activities, among others.
Using data from national household surveys from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, and Uruguay, this #GraphForThought delves into the impact of the pandemic on the recovery of labor force participation rates and unemployment rates, considering how this manifests differently by household composition. In particular, it looks at the gender of the household head and the presence of young children (specifically, the presence of at least one child under the age of six). These additional variables present a more nuanced understanding how COVID-19 has fostered gender and parental differentiated impacts within the labor market. While there are some differences across countries, an interesting divergence seems to emerge between mothers of young children who are heads of household (single-parent household) and those who are not heads of household (multi-parent households). In general, we are seeing that single-mothers are seeing faster labor market recovery rates than mothers in multi-parent households. Note that in Latin America, 39% of households are headed by a woman and 26% are single-parent households where the head is female (Guitierrez, Martin and Ñopo, 2020).
The following graphs show how this has played out in the context of labor force participation (first graph) and unemployment (second graph). Both graphs show the trajectory of the indicator taking the first quarter of 2020 as a baseline; that is, comparing with the moment before the pandemic. Throughout the early months of the pandemic, we see that all groups in the analysis saw worsening labor market outcomes. However, in terms of labor force participation rates, we see that mothers in multi-parent households (darkest red line) faced the highest drop labor force participation rates and remained the furthest behind pre-pandemic levels compared to other groups at the end of the analysis period. Conversely, mothers in single-parent households (lightest red line) saw far lower drops and recovered to above pre-pandemic levels. In terms of unemployment, we see that while women in single-parent households saw greater increases in their overall level of unemployment than women in multi-parent households, they again recovered faster to pre-pandemic levels.