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Covid-19: How have men and women been affected?

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What has changed, and who it has changed for

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Implications for a wellbeing-based recovery

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Some helpful resources that you can use

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What has changed?

As we continue to collect evidence on how people have been affected by the covid-19 pandemic and associated response, this summary draws out findings on how women and men have been affected differently. 
  • Being male puts you at increased risk of the most severe health consequences from the virus. Men are more likely to require hospitalisation and intensive care. Death from COVID-19 was strongly associated with being male.

    We also know that the impacts of the virus and its associated response have affected many other aspects of our wellbeing. These can affect men and women differently, with to the economic and social impacts leaving women particularly exposed.
  • Women have been at particular risk from adverse mental health impacts. Psychological distress and the negative relationship between Covid-19 and wellbeing is higher for women. Women's wellbeing has seen a larger decrease in wellbeing levels in recent months. 

    Six out of ten women (61%) are finding it harder to stay positive day-to-day, compared with 47% of men. Women are much more worried about our nation as a result of Coronavirus, and women are also losing more sleep over it.
  • The impact to jobs and all our working lives has been profound over the past months. Furlough and working from home has affected both men and women, but more women face losing their jobs.
  • Inequality in care responsibilities seem to have played a key role. Mothers were 10 percentage points more likely than fathers to take the decision to be furloughed (as opposed to it being fully or mostly the employer’s decision). 
  • No such gender gap was found amongst childless workers. Women were less likely to have their salary topped up beyond the 80% subsidy paid for by the government. The immediate employment impact of the crisis has been felt more strongly by women, including facing a higher risk of long term unemployment.
  • Reported increases in domestic violence, particularly affects women. During the initial stages of the Covid-19 outbreak, and the nationwide lockdown crisis, Refuge reported around 50% increase in demand to its Helpline, and a 300%+ increase in visits to its National Domestic Abuse Helpline website. 

Why this matters for wellbeing and wellbeing inequalities

All men are not equally at risk from the most severe health impacts of the virus, and all women are not at risk of losing their jobs. This makes it important that we understand how gender intersects with other inequalities, to better target support to individuals and groups.
  • For parents with children unable to attend nursery and school, childcare has been disproportionately provided by women. During the first weeks of lockdown - in households with children aged under 18 years - women were carrying out on average two-thirds more of the childcare duties. This equated to three hours and 18 minutes per day for women, and two hours for men. Women also carried out an even higher proportion of non-developmental childcare, such as cleaning and feeding.
  • Women continue to provide more unpaid work in total, including housework. This was also rated least enjoyable, overall. Many women have been able to work from home, but they were more likely to say that working from home has been difficult. This likely corresponds to the additional unpaid work they do.
  • Increased time spent with children can have it’s upsides too. More mothers reported that their relationship with their children had improved, compared to fathers. Greater investments in time spent homeschooling and caring for children - up to 30 hours a week - is associated with improvements in parent child relationship
  • For children and young people whose education, social life and home lives have all been disputed, while girls tend to have lower wellbeing than boys, evidence suggests that boys have seen a bigger fall in life satisfaction since lockdown.

  • Disabled men and women were less likely to have left the house in the first weeks of lockdown, but this was more pronounced for disabled women. One in four disabled women did not leave the house.
  • Over a third (37.7%) of disabled mothers said they were struggling to feed their children, compared to 16.7% of non-disabled mothers. Over half (56.4%) of disabled women reported finding social isolation difficult to cope with, compared to 41.6% of non-disabled women. Just 24.9% of disabled women reported having high life satisfaction, compared to 38.6% of non-disabled women. Over half of disabled women reported high anxiety.
  • Older people, people on low incomes and those living in urban areas and those with a longstanding illness have found it more difficult to keep active during lockdown, but women have also found it harder than men to maintain activity levels 

Beyond the immediate crisis, there are opposing forces which may ultimately promote gender equality in the labour market. First, businesses are rapidly adopting flexible work arrangements, which are likely to persist. Second, there are also many fathers who now have to take primary responsibility for child care, which may erode social norms that currently lead to a lopsided distribution of the division of labour in house work and child care.

How can this evidence shape a wellbeing-based recovery?

  • Collect and report wellbeing outcomes by gender.
  • Recognise and value unpaid care work and the importance of nurturing relationships, and distribute more equally between mothers and fathers.
  • Address intersectionality appropriately in the design of interventions.

Copyright © 2020 What Works Centre for Wellbeing, All rights reserved.

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