Jun 2020 – Could the Covid-19 lockdown cause pressure on mothers and affect the UK’s gender pay gap?

The reported gender pay gap for 2019 in the UK stands at 17.3%, however according to a report conducted by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), there could now be a slower progress in narrowing the gender pay gap, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the long lasting effect it will have on working mothers and their professional lives after the lockdown is lifted.

It is well known that, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, women were less likely than men to be in paid work; even among workers in similar roles, there has been evidence of a persistent gender gap in hourly wages, with women being paid less, particularly after workers become parents.

The IFS report which was conducted in April-early May finds that mothers are more likely than fathers in the household, to be interrupted during the working day, whilst in lockdown and spend less time on work but rather household chores and childcare. Some interesting finds were that:

  • Mothers in households with two opposite-gender parents were only doing a third of the uninterrupted paid work hours of fathers, compared with 60% of these uninterrupted hours before the virus took hold.

  • Almost half (47%) of mothers’ paid working hours are split between work and other activities such as childcare and household tasks, compared with 30% of fathers’ paid working hours.

  • Although fathers are spending almost twice as many weekday hours on childcare than in 2014-15, mothers are looking after their children for 2.3 hours more hours than fathers, for 10.3 hours per day on average.

Several of the report’s findings suggest that there is a risk of reversing some of the progress made in narrowing the gender wage gap over recent decades. In line with other labour market surveys collected since the start of the covid-19 crisis and based on the current IFS findings, women may be taking a greater share of childcare responsibilities and are more likely to have stopped doing paid work since lockdown began. In addition, even if they are doing some paid work, women are now doing fewer hours than men and are more likely to be juggling paid work and childcare at the same time.

On average, mothers are more likely to step back from paid work during the covid-19 crisis (either voluntarily or through temporary or permanent job loss) and are more likely to pick up more of the domestic responsibilities, and as a result could face a long-run hit to their earnings prospects. For example, past research shows that the time women take off when having a child, and the reduction in hours once they return to work, have long-term effects, reducing their future hourly wages. The differences found in how the work hours of fathers and mothers are being affected by this crisis will result in larger detrimental effects on the career progression and earnings prospects of mothers than of fathers.

The covid-19 crisis has brought an unprecedented disruption to working patterns across the board, we have seen changes in who is doing paid work, where, when and how work is carried out, however it is evident that there is immense pressure on parent’s time and paid work. It will be interesting to see whether attitudes towards gender and work will have changed as a result of the lockdown and in turn, prompt lasting changes in families and workplaces.

For more information, please contact Yoko Nakada on yoko.nakada@lewissilkin.com or Koichiro Nakada on koichiro.nakada@lewissilkin.com.