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Faculty of Economics

New research shows that younger women are likely to bear more of the economic impact of Covid, as the UK appears to be entering a second wave of the pandemic.


Dr Christopher Rauh

“It is clear women, and particularly mothers, will take a larger economic ‘hit’ due to the coronavirus pandemic. Overwhelmingly it’s still women who do much of the child rearing, and they have some unenviable choices to make,” says Dr Christopher Rauh, an economist at the University of Cambridge.

He has found women were significantly more likely to be furloughed. Inequality in care responsibilities appears to have played a key role, with mothers 10 percent more likely than fathers to initiate the decision to be furloughed, as opposed to it being fully or mostly the employer’s decision.

Dr Rauh, along with research partners Abi Adams-Prassl, Teodora Boneva, and Marta Golin, in the Cambridge Working Papers in Economics & Cambridge-INET Working Paper “Furloughing” look at the characteristics of workers furloughed in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic, when official statistics show nine million workers were asked, or offered, to take a temporary layoff from work.

He finds women are often less able to work from home, and according to the research “that could be one reason why they were much more likely to be furloughed. In areas where schools have to close again, it will mean that a parent of a child will have to take time off work to look after them. This task typically tends to fall to women.”

“There was no such gender gap amongst childless workers,” he says. “Additionally, more women than men were employed in face-to-face retail and hospitality jobs, which were hit particularly hard by the spring lockdown. Undoubtedly, women on average have taken a larger economic hit than men.”

Women were less likely to have their salary topped up beyond the 80 percent subsidy paid for by the government. “It’s a dangerous mix for gender equality right now. While the country has made great strides in the past few years, this will undoubtedly set it back. If a greater share of women returned to work, and those jobs are more in face-to-face roles, it could be a factor in the rise,” he says.

The research also highlights that the prohibition of working whilst furloughed was routinely ignored, especially by men who can do a large percentage of their work tasks from home. Those with jobs in computing were much more likely (at 44 percent) to keep on working despite being furloughed, even though this was banned under the coronavirus job retention scheme.

There are some other quirks in the data, which he says appear to show workers are becoming more pessimistic. “Anyone who has been furloughed will be concerned about their job prospects. Our data shows even when they return to their old job, these people are looking for a new one.”

Worryingly workers continue to work with mild covid symptoms, even if they have no employer sick pay. “The UK has one of the least generous statutory sick pay schemes in Europe, and the provision of more generous sick pay could help to support the economic recovery by encouraging sick workers to take time off rather than possibly spread covid if they pose a risk to others,” he says.