The COVID recession hit women much harder than men, and will compound women’s lifetime economic disadvantage.

Australian women:

  • lost more jobs than men – almost 8 per cent at the peak of the crisis, compared to 4 per cent for men;
  • shouldered more of the increase in unpaid work – including supervising children learning remotely – taking on an extra hour each day more than men, on top of their existing heavier load; and
  • were less likely to get government support – JobKeeper excluded short-term casuals, who in the hardest-hit industries are mostly women.

The faster-than-expected economic recovery and school re-openings have helped improve the outlook for women, but unemployment and underemployment remain too high, especially for vulnerable groups such as single parents, who are mostly women.

Policy-makers seemed oblivious to the fact that this recession was different to previous crises – women now make up almost half the workforce, and they are overwhelmingly employed in the industries that were hit hardest by the government-imposed lockdowns, such as hospitality, tourism and higher education.

Governments should ensure that any further stimulus goes well beyond the construction sector and includes at least temporary expansions of social programs and services. The federal government should also make a longer-term investment in childcare to support women’s workforce participation and the economic recovery.

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Grattan Institute Report No. 2021-01