The pandemic caused school closures and gaps in childcare around the world, but only in Canada and the United States did women suffer from massive job loss, amounting to a gendered recession.
That’s because remote schooling and virtually nonexistent childcare (save for the very wealthy) are just two factors among many that have led to women’s soaring unemployment rates over the last year or so. According to a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, reported on by the New York Times, whether or not women lost their jobs globally in some cases had more to do with their home country’s labor protections or their ability to work from home during the pandemic.
In Germany, for example, unemployment rates stayed down because of the country’s longstanding Kurzarbeit policy, which allows businesses to apply for short-term subsidies from the government. The government then pays a percentage of employees’ salaries while the company pays the rest, keeping the business afloat while simultaneously preventing mass layoffs—workers are able to remain employed and receive their paychecks for doing little to no work. So while there was still a gender gap in unemployment in Germany, this program meant that “very few people lost a job” at all during the pandemic, Matthias Doepke, one of the study’s co-authors, told the Times.
It remains true that the U.S. lags embarrassingly far behind the European countries to which it’s compared in the study when it comes to family leave and childcare programs. Having those things certainly would have helped during the pandemic. But the study’s findings show that so-called women’s issues aren’t the only ones that impact women’s lives. Broad, progressive economic policies and social safety nets end up disproportionately helping women just as their absence disproportionately hurts them.
“We also see large declines among women who don’t currently have kids,” Doepke said, pointing out that it wasn’t just mothers who accounted for women’s job losses. “So really, it’s not about one single thing.”