Pandemic worsens gender gap in the labour market

Unemployment rate and part-time contracts grow more among women

3 min
Workers at the covid unit of the Hospital de Santo Pau in Barcelona in an archive image.

BarcelonaIf a year ago the unemployment rate among women was 10.9% in Catalonia, now the figure is four points higher (14.9%). If this same year the unemployment rate among men was 9.9%, now it is less than three points higher (12.8%). If then the gap between the two indicators managed to narrow a few tenths, now it has widened again by two points. "Women have been more affected than men by the adverse consequences of the pandemic on the labour market", summarizes a report by the International Labour Organization (ILO). "The impact of the pandemic on the labour market has a woman's name", agrees the CCOO syndicate.

At the end of the covid year, the 278,000 unemployed Catalan women accounted for more than half of the total number of unemployed, and yet they make up less than half of the active population in Catalonia. The latest data available, from February, worsens the scenario: women account for almost 55% of the unemployed population and there are, in addition, 97,711 women in furlough situations, a figure that for the first time in four months exceeds that of men.

All this at a time when what was expected, at least by the trade union, was just the opposite. Bearing in mind that the pandemic has led to increases in employment in highly feminised sectors, everything suggested that the statistics would show positive results in their favour. "The structural nature of the discrimination is so brutal", summarises Montse Ros, spokesperson and secretary of Integral Communication for CCOO, who attributes it to the fact that in times of crisis the jobs that fall first are the most precarious and these, she stresses, are the ones that women do. In addition, "in a household, between two jobs, they will try to preserve the better paid one, which tends to be that of men", she adds.

Jordi Garcia, professor at the University of Barcelona and labour market expert, sees another explanation: that the composition of the labour market is becoming more and more equal, and therefore, hiring and unemployment figures are increasingly affecting one gender or the other. "Since the 2008 crisis hit the construction industry hard, where more men work, unemployment rose more for men than for women", he says. "And if there was a crisis that affected the health and social care sector a lot, there would certainly be a much more obvious impact on women", she reflects. In her view, the key differences are working conditions and the percentage of people requesting reduced working hours for reasons of work-life balance.

The most paradigmatic example is healthcare. It is one of the few sectors in which the hours worked throughout the year in Spain have increased compared to 2019: 74.5% of hours worked by women, but paid on average much less than those of men. The latest data available from the National Institute of Statistics are from 2018, but they show that on average women are paid 10,000 euros less per year than men in this sector.

In fact, it is common in all sectors for the balance to be in favour of men, but there are only seven in which this difference is greater than 5,000 euros a year: among them, administrative activities, the scientific sector, communication and commerce. And they have all played a key role during the pandemic.

Temporariness and partiality

Added to all this is the contract model which, once again, tends to be more fragile in the case of women. According to Idescat, in 2020, 2.2 million contracts were signed in Catalonia, more than half of them with men. And although regardless of gender the vast majority were for temporary jobs, again the rate is one point higher in the case of women. In addition, there are 12,000 more temporary contracts that are converted into permanent contracts in the case of men.

CCOO adds one last point: the rate of involuntary part-time work is increasing from one year to the next in the case of women and is contracting in the case of men. "This is the result of the consequences of the pandemic, as many women are taking on these situations [caring for the sick and dependents or working in households], which are now more numerous, at the cost of giving up a full-time job", the union concludes.

There is a very revealing fact, in this regard: the employment rate among men with children recovered the levels of 2019 in the last quarter of the year, according to data also from the INE. That of women, on the other hand, fell by more than two points.