Hidden Costs of the Pandemic on Gender Equality: Has COVID-19 Taught Working Mothers to Prioritize Their Family (Again)?

Een persoon is het fornuis aan het schoonmaken © iStockphoto.com/LumiNola
© iStockphoto.com/LumiNola

As part of the OECD series ‘Tackling COVID-19’, Hub researchers Belle Derks, Johanna Kruger, Ruth van Veelen and Mara Yerkes published an article on the hidden costs of the pandemic on gender equality.

Effects on gender equality

The piece discusses how at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, some experts warned that the lockdown measures would have detrimental effects on gender equality, particularly in relation to the division of household and care tasks. Other experts hoped that the pandemic might have a positive impact on gender equality outcomes, ultimately transforming gender norms and beliefs.

Two years into the pandemic, the empirical evidence suggests that in several countries, an increase in gender inequality in the division of household and care tasks didn’t materialize. The Netherlands is a clear example: gender inequality in the division of childcare did not worsen during the pandemic.

Reasons why we should still be concerned

The article raises and elaborates upon four reasons why we should still be concerned: first, initial improvements in the gender-equal division of care appear to have been short-lived. Second, despite many mothers and essential workers not taking on additional care tasks, they were feeling guilty about not being there for their family. Third, these same mothers and essential workers who experienced guilt about prioritizing work over family during the pandemic were found to compensate for their guilt by reducing their leisure time and planning to reduce their work hours. Fourth, as the pandemic continued and the division of care returned to pre-pandemic gender-unequal levels, parents became more satisfied with this division than before.

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