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June 10, 2021

In Brief: COVID-19 IMPACTS Through a Gender-based Lens

Diana Gerasimov summarizes new findings on the gendered impacts of the pandemic.

Diana Gerasimov

June 10, 2021

Vanier Institute’s In Brief Series: Mobilizing Research on Families in Canada

STUDY 1: Grekou, D., and Y. Lu. “Gender Differences in Employment One Year into the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Analysis by Industrial Sector and Firm Size,” Statistics Canada (2021). Link: https://bit.ly/2TuebTl.

STUDY 2: Kabeer, N., S. Razavi and Y. van der Meulen Rodgers. “Feminist Economic Perspectives on the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Feminist Economics, 27(1–2), 1–29 (2021). Link: https://bit.ly/3eqdvqa.

Canadian COVID-19 impacts

The recent report “Gender Differences in Employment One Year into the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Analysis by Industrial Sector and Firm Size” highlights the disproportionate effect the pandemic has had on women in Canada.

  • At the onset of the pandemic, in March 2020, employment losses for women accounted for 63% of overall employment losses.
  • Over the study period (March 2020 to February 2021 compared with March 2019 to February 2020) women accounted for 54% of the year-over-year employment losses.

Within the services sector, women were significantly more affected by declines in employment than their male counterparts

A higher concentration of women makes up the services sector than men. In February 2020, the services sector (excluding public administration) represented 90% of employment among women compared with 68% for men. Therefore, lockdown measures, which have been consistently more restrictive for this industry, have greatly impacted women.

  • From March 2020 to February 2021 period, the year-over-year employment losses for women were, on average, 1.8 times larger than for their male counterparts.

Global COVID-19 impacts

Another recent study, “Feminist Economic Perspectives on the COVID-19 Pandemic,” reflects the Canadian findings about the impacts of COVID-19 by gender on a global scale. The authors explore how gender shapes the experiences, impacts and risks associated with COVID-19 globally. Analysis of disaggregated data on COVID-19 cases from 112 countries shows that men have an overall higher infection and mortality rate, while women have been disproportionately impacted in terms of employment, unpaid work and well-being.

Women’s high representation in jobs that have been most challenged by lockdown orders has led to larger declines in employment, compared with their male counterparts across several countries. Research has also found that stay-at-home orders have increased unpaid care responsibilities, which again is the work most often undertaken by women. Such orders have also posed added risk of domestic violence, which has increased in frequency globally.


●       Women from marginalized groups and lowest-income households were among the hardest hit groups of the pandemic. Women predominately make up front-line and essential workers who are more vulnerable to exposure and infection.

●       Countries with women leaders have had more optimistic outcomes throughout the pandemic.


Global pandemic health data illustrate marked differences between men and women

Among countries that gathered gender-specific data on COVID-19 cases:

  • Women make up over 60% of cases in four countries: Wales, Belgium, Scotland, and the Netherlands. In contrast, men constitute over 60% of cases in at least 13 countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Saudi Arabia.
  • Men make up 58% of COVID-19 deaths compared with 42% for women.

Out of the 76 countries analyzing sex-disaggregated COVID-19 death rates, 64 countries reported men constituting at least 50% of all COVID-19 deaths. This was reported even in countries where women were more susceptible to COVID-19 infection, such as in the United States.

Men’s high susceptibility to mortality from COVID-19 could be explained by a few factors, including:

  • Greater risk behaviours, such as drinking and smoking
  • Higher probability of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension
  • Lower prevalence of following health measures, such as considering preventative care and handwashing

Global impacts on labour markets

The COVID-19 pandemic led to government-imposed lockdowns that caused significant disruptions to the labours markets, international supply chains, migration and income sources.

  • Globally, 40% of women workers, compared with 37% of men, were employed in sectors that were most impacted by the pandemic.

Sectors that were among the hardest hit during the pandemic included hospitality services, labour-intensive manufacturing, wholesale and retail, and entertainment. Women working in these industries in Central America and Southeast Asia were especially high, representing respectively 59% and 48% of all employed women.

Women’s high representation in industries greatly affected by the pandemic translated to larger employment declines compared with men in several countries, including Ecuador, Spain, the United States, Colombia and Canada.

In the United States, women of colour were hit hardest with unemployment by the pandemic

Women of colour in the United States represent:

  • 30% of workers in health care and social assistance
  • 24% of workers in hospitality services
  • 18% of workers in retail trade

Due to a surge in patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities, the pandemic prompted an increased demand for nurses, home aides and medical assistants. Workers at the front lines are at the greatest risk of COVID-19 exposure. Women and minorities are overrepresented in front-line care sectors in the U.S. Data from the 2021 Current Population Survey (CPS) in the U.S. demonstrate that workers occupying a role in essential care earn less than other essential workers.

  • Globally, over 70% of employees in social services and health care are women.

Global domestic workers

Labour market disruptions and income insecurity have been experienced by millions of domestic workers, often excluded from labour laws and protections. Many were ineligible for emergency response aid or had no access to unemployment benefits.

  • 80% of domestic workers who cook, clean and care for families globally are women.

The risk of workers’ rights violations has been a concern of domestic workers unions since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. These violations could be significantly more serious for migrant domestic workers, who are further restricted by immigration status and laws.

Global domestic violence

Domestic violence has become a more prominent issue during the COVID-19 crisis. Initial reports demonstrate that the frequency and severity of domestic violence have increased across several countries.

Risk factors associated with domestic violence include social isolation and an increase in psychological and financial stress. These threats increase in periods where a victim must spend time with their abuser due to stay-at-home orders.

  • In the U.S., during shelter-in-place orders, police reports and crime data demonstrated domestic abuse increased by approximately 6%, constituting over 24,000 cases from mid-March to late April 2020.

These results remain consistent with exposure reduction theory, which promotes providing victims with safe spaces away from their abusers so as to reduce their exposure to environments where the violence occurs and help in preventing domestic abuse.

The COVID-19 crisis has created opportunities to further examine societal gender differences and serves as a reminder of the importance in collecting and analyzing gender-disaggregated data. Reflecting on the experiences from the past 15 months presents possibilities for shifts in policymaking with approaches focused on improving societal well-being by acknowledging the way that gender impacts experiences, employment and health.

Diana Gerasimov holds a bachelor’s degree from Concordia University in Communication and Cultural Studies.