NSSK A HARRIED The mother may argue that Britain was suffering from a pandemic-induced “her ceding” (a recession of work that disproportionately hits women), and that she barely tampered with her thumbs. Hmm. When the school was first closed, mothers took on most of the unpaid care of their children and experienced a significant reduction in the uninterrupted time they could get to work. Asking the same question to economists, British women are also said to have increased their proportion of regular employment. The pandemic has hit the employment rate of most groups (see graph), but the employment rate of men has been hit harder.
This was unusual. According to a survey of 38 countries, the employment lead for men and women increased by about two-thirds between 2019 and the second quarter of 2020. However, in the UK, it has shrunk by the second largest amount after Luxembourg. The most noticeable was the difference in course between young men and women. The employment rate for men aged 25-34 in June was 2.4 points below January 2020. The employment rate of women of the same age was 0.7 points higher.
Until May, many of the affected jobs were done by women rather than men, so a generous layoff plan probably contributed initially. (People who are temporarily dismissed are considered employed.) But these days, the balance is even. Another factor is that before the pandemic, men were twice as self-employed as women, and self-employed were not eligible for layoffs. When the covid-19 hit, it left them more exposed.
Why did the experiences of young men and women diverge so much? Hannah Slaughter of the Resolution Foundation, a think tank, states that men aged 25-34 are likely to be as self-employed as men of other age groups before the pandemic occurs. But the sectors in which they worked, such as construction and manufacturing, were hit hard when the blockade began. For the general population, there was little relation between the gender division of workers in the sector and whether it was adversely affected. But the connection was stronger for young workers.
The bigger mystery is probably why the hiring of young women was relatively successful. One clue is a significant reduction in the number of people who are away from the workforce to care for their homes and families, says Slaughter. This may indicate a pandemic silver lining, the rise of telecommuting. This makes it easier to balance employment and family. The darker possibility is that some women were forced into paid jobs because their partners lost their income, as it happened during the recession before 2008-09.
On September 30, the plan for layoffs will finally end. And a new study by think tanks Jonathan Cribb and Adam Salisbury at the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that women may be more vulnerable to the resulting unemployment. Removing the sectors most likely to recover from pandemic closures, such as air travel and tourism, accounted for 55% of the sectors in which women were temporarily dismissed in June. Researchers also cite evidence that unemployed or layoff women face particularly fierce work competition when adjusting their work experience and patterns of economic vacancy. The pandemic may not have caused the British ceding. However, for women, the post-pandemic employment market is not particularly welcome. ■■
This article was published in the UK section of the printed version under the heading “He-cession”.
In the UK, young women did more work during the pandemic
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