According to the International Labor Organization, the people of Latin America and the Caribbean saw the largest reduction in hours worked in the labor market because of the COVID-19 pandemic, estimated at a 20.9% loss in hours.
Moreover, in Latin America, women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. According to the World Bank’s COVID-19 High Frequency Monitoring project, 56 percent of women lost their jobs either temporarily or permanently between May and August 2020, a rate that’s 44% higher than that of men.
Even as men began returning to the workforce in 2021, the gender gap in job losses remained. The reasons? Cultural expectations about childcare and household responsibilities that fall primarily on women, as well as women being more likely to work in industries or informal labor markets that shut down during the pandemic or that particularly rely on face-to-face interaction.
While the economic impacts of the pandemic are clear, perceptions of work and household responsibilities are less clear. From June 24-26, we conducted a national web survey in Mexico asking respondents if their work or household responsibilities had decreased, increased or stayed about the same. Women were twice as likely as men (34% vs. 17%) to say their work responsibilities had decreased, likely due to higher rates of unemployment or only being able to work part time. Men were far more likely to say their work responsibilities had increased rather than decreased (41.52% vs. 16.96%). However, when prompted about household responsibilities, we see nearly identical responses with nearly two-thirds of both men and women claiming their responsibilities in the home have increased.
This latter finding may seem odd, considering cultural expectations in Mexico regarding childcare and other household responsibilities that fall disproportionately on women. We suggest the issue may be not that there have been increases, but the extent of the increases. Even prior to the pandemic, men overestimated the time spent on housework, therefore it is reasonable to assume similar differential increases because of the pandemic.
Mexico will likely struggle to reintegrate millions of women into the workforce, but they are not alone in this “shecession”. Efforts should focus on access to childcare as well as to higher education to close the employment opportunity gap. However, a historic lack of prioritization of women’s economic needs, and a rollback of previous policy triumphs (such as the cancellation of the Federal Daycare Program in 2019) have left many dubious of the government’s capability to offer policy solutions, especially as gender employment gaps have widened in the wake of COVID.
Andi Dahmer is the exchange program manager at the World Affairs Council of Kentucky. She is a 2019 honors graduate of Western Kentucky University (WKU) and a 2018 Truman Scholar. Kerby Gilstrap is an honors undergraduate researcher at WKU. Timothy S. Rich is an associate Professor of political science and director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL) at WKU.