The 7th Blog in the WiSE Series sees Leanne Wilson, PhD Researcher with the WiSE Centre for Economic Justice comment on implications of work and care and offers personal reflections on trying to get some work done!
MUM can I…Get Some Work Done?: The Economic Impact for Women ‘staying at home’.
According to the mainstream press, the Covid 19 crisis has brought the ‘economy’ to a halt. While the pandemic may have immobilised the formal economy, what about the unrecognised unpaid domestic economy? With the closures of school, childcare facilities and paid care, which have provided opportunities for women, predominantly, to enter and progress within paid work, unpaid domestic labour has intensified, especially with compliance with the ‘stay at home’ message. While the overall impact is not certain at this time, as a woman attempting to work from home, I can clearly see gendered realities emerging at the household and a more general level. While the ‘stay at home’ message has arguably been a success in driving down infection rates, it is important to understand and recognise the potential uneven impact it has had on the lives and careers of women. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies found, this risk may have a potential long run hit to the earnings of women regress the advances made in the gender pay gap (Andrews et al, 2020). Research has found that women are…Oh wait (“MUM” being shouted in the background)…
I’m back…where was I…I have lost my thought; I will have to restart. How will I ever meet this deadline? This is the reality of working from home under the lockdown restrictions.
Women are disproportionately responsible for unpaid care and domestic labour with approximately 60% more unpaid work being carried out by women than men (ONS, 2016). Women on average spend 40 mins per day more on childcare than men (no change in the gap from 2001 to 2015) (Wishart et al, 2019). Henz (2019) found that in the UK, fathers’ involvement with childcare has remained the same from 2000 to 2014 despite policy advances. Further to this, research from Germany found that women working from home tend to do 3 hours extra per week more than those working in offices (Gaskell, 2020). Therefore, it would be reasonable to suggest that there could be increased burden on women under lock-down. From my own experience beginning my academic career during this pandemic I can attest to this.
Working conditions, for now, have had to adapt to the lockdown with staff shifting to remote working whilst having to home-school, and keep their households safe from the virus. As I try to pursue an academic career, the burden of insecure employment and pressure for publications to boost my chances of employment weigh heavy. The lockdown and the intensified caring pressure have undoubtedly increased that pressure and this is not unique to me.
Therefore, is it a reasonable assumption that people can continue to work from home throughout this crisis? And will this assumption disproportionately impact women?
I would argue no, it is not reasonable without some acknowledgement of caring responsibilities and yes it will disproportionately affect women. Despite my husband being on furlough, my son continues to shout, “MUM can I have…”. Likewise, in research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the University College London where a participant said “[My partner] is furloughed and yet my work telephone calls are interrupted by the children asking questions, while daddy is just watching Netflix” (Ascher, 2020). The deeply entrenched social norms and gendered structures within households prevail and in fact are exasperated. Children tend to go to mothers for care than fathers with research finding that mothers both in employment and unemployed are spending approximately six hours per day providing childcare and home-schooling every working day during lock down (Ferguson, 2020). On average women can only work for one uninterrupted hour for every three that dads can do (Ascher, 2020). Already the gendered consequences for women in academia are noticeable. The Co-editor of Comparative Political Studies reported that journal submissions were up by 25% this April compared to last year, great news?! However, this increase was solely in submissions from men (Flaherty, 2020). Men working from home are more able to commit to extra overtime and have more uninterrupted working hours to dedicate to their research however women pick up the domestic slack and accept this as a price to pay for “clinging on to a thread of a career” (McCarthy, 2020).
Although the prospect of a return to ‘normal’ academic life may seem far away, the future for women in the profession is increasingly worrying. Furlough has been extended to people with caring responsibilities, following pressure from women’s organisations and the weight of evidence of the impact of lockdown and shutdown. However, women with caring responsibilities are already penalised for taking time off from work for child rearing etc so this only offers a small glimmer of hope. The shift of focus to the household, as highlighted in previous WiSE blogs, may now highlight these deep-seated issues and, as the Government Equalities Office suggest, may prompt a culture shift that encourages sharing of caring responsibilities that will unleash women (Oppenheim, 2020). This is very optimistic, I realise, but unless we continue to chip at the structures they will not change.
“Muu-um… (Oh, here we go again)!
Andrew, A., Cattan, S., Costa Dias, M. Farquharson, C., Kraftman, L., Kritikova, S., Phimister, A. and Sevilla, A. (2020), How are mothers and fathers balancing work and family lockdown?, Institute for Fiscal Studies. Available at: https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/14860.
Ascher, D (2020), Coronavirus: ‘Mums do most childcare and chores in lockdown,’, BBC News online. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52808930#.
Ferguson, D (2020), ‘I feel like a 1950s housewife’: how lockdown has exposed the gender divide, The Guardian Online. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/03/i-feel-like-a-1950s-housewife-how-lockdown-has-exposed-the-gender-divide?CMP=share_btn_tw
Flaherty, C. (2020), No Room of One’s Own, Inside Higher Education. Available at: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/04/21/early-journal-submission-data-suggest-covid-19-tanking-womens-research-productivity
Gaskel, A (2020), Breaking Down the Gender Divide to Survive Working from Home, Forbes Online. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2020/04/01/breaking-down-the-gender-divide-to-survive-working-from-home/#5b66b61520cf.
Henz, U. (2019) Fathers’ involvement with their children in the United Kingdom: Recent trend and class differences. Demographic Research Vol. 40:30, pp. 863-896.
Oppenheim, M. (2020) Coronavirus: Women bearing burden of childcare and homeschooling in lockdown, study finds, Independent Online. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/coronavirus-childcare-homeschooling-women-lockdown-gender-a9512866.html.
ONS (2016), Women shoulder the responsibility of unpaid work. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/articles/womenshouldertheresponsibilityofunpaidwork/2016-11-10
Wishart, R., Dunatchik, A., Speight, S. and Mayer, M (2019), Changing patterns in parental time use in the UK. Available at: http://natcen.ac.uk/media/1722408/Parental_time_use_report.pdf