Has the progress on the gender pay gap been lost?

A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has unearthed worrying truths about the gender pay gap during the lockdown.

In partnership with the University College London (UCL) and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), 3,500 families were interviewed to assess the impact of COVID-19 on their household.

The results suggest that women, in particular working mothers,  are having to do more to manage both work and family life. This could, in turn, reverse progress being made towards closing the gender pay gap.

Lucy Kraftman, a research economist at the IFS, said: “Working mothers are doing, on average, more childcare and more housework than fathers who have the same work arrangements.”
“The only set of households where we see mothers and fathers sharing childcare and housework equally are those in which both parents were previously working, but the father has now stopped working for pay, while the mother is still in paid work.”

Future of the pay gap

According to a report by The Fawcett Society, the gender pay gap worsened after the 2008 financial crisis, and history may be repeated once more.

The IFS study found that of parents who were in paid work before the lockdown, working mothers are one-and-a-half times more likely than fathers to have either lost their job or quit since the lockdown began, and are also more likely to have been furloughed. In all, working mothers who were in paid work in February are nine percentage points less likely to be currently working for pay (either remotely or on-site) than fathers.

Mothers in two-parent households are only doing, on average, a third of the uninterrupted paid-work hours of fathers, UCL and the IFS found. The IFS study found that mothers are doing paid-work during two fewer hours of the day than fathers, but they take on childcare and housework for two hours each.

Mothers combine paid-work with other activities, 90% of which is childcare, in 47% of their work hours, compared with 30% of fathers’ work hours. The lack of equality in uninterrupted paid-work may mean that women will find it harder to focus on work, potentially widening the gender pay gap further.

What needs to be done

Moira O’Neill, Head of Personal Finance, Interactive Investor, says: “It looks like the gender pay gap figure very likely just went up and we need action fast. Since the start of lockdown, working mothers are more likely to be out of pocket, out of work, and shouldering the lion’s share of domestic responsibilities – which now includes homeschooling.

“This inequality could have long term implications, particularly as we head into the most uncertain economic environment in living memory. We need to see urgent action from the Government aimed at tackling these worsening financial gender inequalities. We want the Government to widen the £10,000 earnings threshold for auto-enrolment to those working for multiple employers, liberating millions of workers who might have several part-time jobs – many of whom are women.

“This winter those aged 50 and over will be starting to get pension ‘Wake Up Packs’ to help them gauge what their retirement finances might look like. But these packs need to start well before 50, at key life stages such as the start of a new job or birth of a child. Nobody wants their finances to sleep until they reach 50.

“And let’s get auto-enrolment working better for everyone – lowering the minimum age limit to 18 sooner rather than later. The Government’s mid-2020s ambition is lethargic and risks leaving a whole generation behind – and these are the ones who are going to be footing much of the Coronavirus bill.”

What the future holds

According to IFS and UCL, on average, fathers are now doing some childcare during eight hours of the day, compared with four hours in 2014/15. This increase is especially large for the 15% of fathers in previously dual-earner households who have lost their job while their partner continues to do paid work. This large increase in fathers’ involvement in childcare might have long-lasting impacts on how couples share childcare responsibilities.

Sonya Krutikova, Deputy Research Director, IFS said: “Fathers, on average, are doing nearly double the hours of childcare they were doing prior to the crisis.”

“This may bring about changes in the attitudes of fathers, mothers, children and employers about the role of fathers in meeting family needs for childcare and domestic work during the working week.”

Despite the worrying findings of the report, the rise in involvement of fathers during the crisis may mean that household chores are more likely to be split evenly between the genders in the future, making space for women to focus on paid work.

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