Socioeconomics Effects of COVID-19 on Mothers in Canada
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Mothers in Canada have experienced social and economic impacts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic that other demographic populations in the country have not. This article provides an overview of recent research on how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated socioeconomic impacts for those employed in precarious jobs, who are underpaid, and who take on additional unpaid labour responsibilities in the home. The largest group of people impacted in these ways collectively are women who are mothers.
This article acknowledges that not all women are mothers, and many men take on the same level of the parenting role as mothers in various circumstances. As such, that the impacts raised in this article are not generalized across all mothers.
The Socioeconomic Situation for Women and Mothers
Social and economic factors play a significant role in individual wellbeing. Social indicators can include one’s living environment, social status, occupation, and education, while economic indicators can include employment status, personal and household income levels, and ability to meet basic needs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, women have experienced reduced work hours and increased job losses. At the same time, women who are mothers have pivoted to provide additional unpaid labour responsibilities at home. Many mothers continue to live on the front lines of the pandemic and are experiencing significant burdens while doing so.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic all provinces and territories enacted a form of a state of public health emergency, resulting in operational delays, business closures, and layoffs across industries. Service industries such as healthcare, social assistance, educational services, and hospitality services tend to operate in places and situations with high physical proximity (high levels of person-to-person contact), which has put workers at higher risk of health impacts while at work. These industries also tend to employ a relatively large percentage of women and have suffered the most from pandemic related closures and restrictions (see Table 1).
|Industry||Women (%)||Men (%)|
|Healthcare and Social Assistance||82.4||17.6|
|Accommodation and Food Services||58.5||41.5|
Table 1 Three service-based industries in Canada, with the highest share of women relative to men. The proportion of women who worked in these industries was 41% versus 13.1% of men.
As of July 2020, across all industries, there were higher unemployment levels for women of all ages than men. Before COVID-19, mothers were already in fiscally vulnerable positions because they typically earned $0.85 for every dollar earned by fathers. In contrast, women without children earned $0.90 for every dollar earned by men without children. This “motherhood penalty” has been found to have implications on other socioeconomic factors, increasing risk and vulnerability to pursuing a better quality of life. For example, single-earner mothers are less likely to afford housing than their male counterparts, leaving lone mother households more susceptible to poverty and homelessness. The pandemic further highlighted the inequities present within Canadian institutions by increasing these socioeconomic disparities.
A typical social outcome of motherhood in Canada is a “double burden.” This double burden occurs when mothers do both formal paid work and informal unpaid work. Formal paid work includes participating in the workforce, such as having a full-time job. Informal, unpaid work could be completing domestic duties such as cooking, taking care of sick family members, and raising children. In 2015, women in Canada were, on average, more likely to spend more time on unpaid work than men.
Further, the labour supply of mothers is sensitive to the presence of young children. Specifically, a young child’s presence in the household dramatically reduces a woman’s number of formal work hours. However, this has minimal effect on the formal work hours of men in these households. For two-parent households this usually means that mothers would be more likely to reduce their hours or leave their jobs than fathers.
|% of total||Minutes/ day||% of total||Minutes/ day|
|Perform routine childcare tasks||76.1||138||56.7||84|
|Child engagement, development, and education||40||36||27.4||24|
|Care for an adult family member or friend||3.3||96||1.2||60|
Table 2 A summary of the gender gap, between men and women, in participation in informal work such as housework, child-rearing, or providing care in Canada (time is converted from hours to minutes)
The closure of many childcare services and schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19 added additional challenges for families. As of July 2020, only one in ten parents had children attending childcare, but one in three respondents said that their children would resume attending if childcare fully re-opened. This switch to not being able to send children to childcare meant that families had to make other arrangements or supervise their children at home while working. For parents who could not make alternate arrangements and did not have a work-from-home policy, a parent was often unable to go to work.
Mothers who perform a “double duty” role that includes childcare report more significant family conflicts and worse partner relationships because of the strains placed on them from these roles. Recently, academics have started using the term “triple duty” for mothers who are caregiving for multiple generations simultaneously, acting as caregivers for children and elders in the family. Families where a mother performs a triple-duty role have been found to have higher rates of family conflicts and increased psychological distress scores than women performing a double-duty function. Additional caring roles and responsibilities result in chronic stress and reduced physical and psychological health of the carer. The pandemic has exacerbated these impacts, with caregivers reporting increased stress, isolation, and neglected health needs.
While these findings are a concern for women who have partners, these adverse effects are even further exacerbated for single-mother households who may face these caring roles and associated health challenges alone.
The pandemic has directly impacted mothers across Canada. It has increased the adverse socioeconomic factors that contribute to mothers’ quality of life. These social and economic factors can have more significant impacts on mothers marginalized by race, age, and other forms of discrimination. Taking these factors into account in a post-pandemic recovery strategy could serve as an opportunity for Canada to go beyond “returning to normal” and advance inclusion and gender equality in Canada to reduce these negative impacts on women and mothers.
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