Mothers leaving work in lockdown could widen gender pay gap

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Women with children are 47% more likely to have lost or quit their job since the start of restrictions and 14% more likely to have been furloughed than fathers, according to an online survey of 3,500 families with parents of opposite genders published Wednesday.

Those still in employment have cut their paid working hours by about one fifth — a greater proportion than the reduction seen in fathers’ hours — the study conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the the UCL Institute of Education found. Almost half of that time is split between work and other activities such as child care for mothers, compared with under one-third for male parents.

The disparity raises the prospect that women’s gains in the labor market and efforts to reduce the gender pay gap are being undermined by the lockdown. Before the pandemic reached Britain, the female participation rate was near record highs, but increased caring and household responsibilities while schools are shut could mean many women are stepping back.

It’s not only mothers facing a higher workload in the home. On average, fathers are now doing almost twice as many hours of child care than in 2015, the survey found. But that remains substantially less time than undertaken by women. It was only in households where the man had lost his job while the mother kept hers that they split housework and care fairly equally, the IFS said.

The shift in caring patterns prompted by virus restrictions was underscored by data from the Office for National Statistics which showed childcare by people over the age of 60 in the month ended April 26 dropped by 90% from 2015 levels.

In a separate report, the Resolution Foundation said the Universal Credit benefits system had coped well with unprecedented demand for welfare, with more claims being processed in the first four weeks of the coronavirus crisis than in the first nine months of the financial crisis over a decade ago.

But with Britain now facing the highest unemployment since the 1990s, the think tank urged the government to make the system more generous to cushion the blow for the estimated 2 million people projected to lose their job this quarter.

“The typical employee loses close to half their income if they enter unemployment and move onto benefits,” said Karl Handscomb, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation. “This will pose significant challenges for those facing long periods without work.”

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