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Women’s work/life balance progress has been stalled due to coronavirus

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COVID-19 and national lockdowns have stalled progress for working women as they have had to adapt their working lives more than men.

Research by the Women’s Budget Group (WBG) and Nottingham University Business School found that working class women and female small employers and self-employed workers are doing more unpaid work throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Thirty-three per cent of employed women with children at home adapted their working patterns, while 16% reduced their hours in order to spend time on childcare and home-schooling during the first lockdown.

This compares with 25% of similar men who adapted working patterns and 9% who reduced hours.

The research also found that small employers and self-employed women were more likely to do most routine housework than any other social group.

Clare Lyonette, professor at Warwick Institute for Employment Research presented the new report, Carrying the work burden of Covid-19 : working class women in the UK, at a WBG webinar yesterday (14 December).

She said: “We found that 19% of working-class women carried out over 21 hours a week worth of household chores such as ironing, washing up and cleaning."

The findings are part of a new report which looks at the difficulties experienced by working class women throughout the pandemic.

A further 23% of small employers/self-employed women carried out household chores, compared to 9% of managerial/professional women.

“We found that 73% were always or usually doing the cooking, 76% the laundry, 68% the grocery shopping and 71% the cleaning,” added Lyonette.

In September, employed women in a couple were always or usually responsible for laundry in 68% of couples, cleaning in 62%, cooking in 57% and food shopping in 54%.

Report co-author Tracey Warren added: “It has been working-class women who have had to become adaptable during times of crisis. Very few working-class women had access to good quality flexible working arrangements.”

Angela O’Hagan, senior lecturer in the Department of Social Sciences in the Glasgow School for Business and Society WBG member said inequality in unpaid work is at the heart of the inequality that women face in the labour market.

She said: “This reduces the amount of time that women have for paid work which means that women work fewer hours and as a result, earn less.”

The research surveyed employed women in heterosexual relationships aged between 18 and 65.

Further reading:

COVID-19 has delayed diversity and inclusion in workplaces

Mothers face job insecurity and increased childcare responsibilities during lockdown

Finding gender equality in the blur between home and work