A University of Arkansas professor and adjunct senior economist for the University of Southern California recently revealed in a research brief that women’s work status, mental health and more are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gema Zamarro, a professor in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions, co-authored a study in June with her University of Southern California colleagues regarding the gender-divide that exists in the homes and workplaces of women amidst COVID-19.
In addition to being a professor and economist, Zamarro is a mother.
“I am a mom of two young kids (9 and 7) and combining my work as a Professor while providing care and homeschooling for my kids has been very challenging,” Zamarro said.
While assuming these responsibilities, Zamarro contemplated how this affected other working moms and women in America.
“I also observed how other working moms in my social networks were struggling with work and childcare,” Zamarro said. “I thought it was important to bring data and study how the pandemic is affecting working moms with the hope to quantify the problem and bring it to the public attention.”
The contemplation of a working mom’s struggle amidst COVID-19 initially led Zamarro to research the adverse effects women have experienced for the duration of the pandemic season. In her study of over 6,000 participants in six survey waves conducted from March to June, Zamarro unearthed multiple statistics of women being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
In USC’s Understanding Coronavirus in America study, Zamarro and her team found that women suffered more significant job loss and stress-inducing childcare responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic than men.
According to the full study report, “Overall, female employment dropped 13 percentage points between March and early April – from 59 percent to 46 percent – while male employment dropped 10 percentage-points – from 64 percent to 54 percent.”
Zamarro’s study additionally found in April that women who did not pursue a college degree suffered the highest unemployment drop with a 19 percent permanent or temporary layoff rate. Men without a college degree experienced a lower permanent or temporary layoff rate at 14 percent.
The recession and closing of businesses and schools resulted in a childcare shortage that left women with more significant household responsibilities.
According to a University of Arkansas report, “one-third of working mothers in two-parent households reported they were the only ones providing care for their children, compared to one-tenth of working fathers.”
As a result of the lingering unemployment rates for women and high-pressure child-rearing responsibilities, psychological distress patterns have emerged in women with children during COVID-19.
According to the USC report, “Among married or partnered women with children in the household, the percentage with at least mild symptoms of psychological distress (PHQ-4 measure of anxiety or depression, Kroenke et al. 2009) peaked in early April at 49 percent, nine percentage points higher than the percentage of married or partnered women without children reporting similar symptoms.”
This psychological finding worries Zamarro for the future.
I am worried about the fact that we saw a new gap in psychological distress between women with children and women without children emerging as a result of the pandemic in April, Gazarro said.
“Although the gap seems to be closing as of June, I expect it might come back as the crisis continues if schools can’t open,” Zamarro said. “This could have important implications in the long term for health not only of these women but also of their children.”