August 18, 2020; National Public Radio, “Planet Money” (NPR)
A new study by economists Matthias Doepke, Jane Olmstead-Rumsey, and Michèle Tertilt finds that the economic crisis is hitting women harder than men. The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), is titled “This Time It’s Different: The Role of Women’s Employment in a Pandemic Recession,” and it details gender-based employment trends amid the 2020 economic shutdown.
As Greg Rosalsky writes for NPR’s Planet Money, “The pandemic has ravaged in-person service jobs—at restaurants, hotels, Pilates studios, retail outlets, and so on—which are disproportionately done by women. Men are more likely to be able to work remotely, and male-dominated construction and manufacturing, while down, have also proven to be relatively pandemic-proof.”
This is a theme that NPQ has written about before. NPQ first noted the trend in May, when we reported that 55 percent of those who lost jobs between February and April were women. in June, NPQ’s Carole Levine highlighted the pandemic’s economic impact on single mothers. In August, NPQ’s Beth Couch, citing the research of Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, noted that the pandemic’s decimation of childcare risked setting professional women’s economic progress “back a generation.”
How will the nonprofit sector respond? The Foraker Group, a 501c3 nonprofit that acts as a trade association of Alaska’s nonprofits, released a report this month that looked at gender pay disparities in that state’s nonprofit sector. The data, of course, is from before the pandemic, but it helps put some of the current challenges in context. And it serves as a reminder that gender inequality during the pandemic unfortunately builds on a legacy of gender discrimination pre-pandemic.
There is good news and bad news contained in the Foraker report. The good news: the gender wage gap in the nonprofit sector is less bad than that the state as a whole. The bad news: women, who are 65 percent of employees in the state’s nonprofit sector, still only earn 79 percent as much as men (in the economy as whole, they earn 72 percent as much as men and the pace of change is so slow that the study estimates the gap would not be fully closed until 2277).
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The report includes eight action steps for nonprofits to take. These steps are to: 1) be race-conscious and examine process for sources of bias, 2) evaluate compensation for internal equity, 3) separate compensation and performance reviews, 4) promote pay transparency (such as by publishing pay ranges), 5) create family-friendly policies, 6) build a diverse board, 7) ensure professional development opportunities, and 8) advocate for laws that promote pay equity.
These all sound like common sense steps, but what lessons does it provide for our current pandemic-induced economic downturn?
Turns out the study might be more relevant than initially apparent. Indeed, the pandemic could actually ultimately spur a reduction in the gender wage gap if some of the lessons of the Foraker report are actually implemented.
As Rosalsky details, research by Goldin shows that the main driver of the gender wage gap is “female demand for temporal flexibility,” which in turn is driven by the fact that childcare responsibility still is disproportionately placed on women. Many of the teleworking arrangements that the pandemic has made necessary could become central to create the “family friendly” policy that Foraker is recommending. Telework arrangements “really help parents—particularly mothers of young kids—to keep working,” Olmstead-Rumsey, one of the authors of the NBER study, tells Rosalsky.
Olmstead-Rumsey adds that “teleworking basically allows parents to better combine working with childcare.”
Right now, of course, with remote public-school instruction in many communities, children are de-facto “teleworking” too, which, as Levine points out, has reinforced patriarchal norms that have greatly harmed women’s position in the workforce. But if post-pandemic, children are able to go back to school while parents don’t have to go back to the office—a big if, to be sure—it could help close that gender pay gap long before 2277.—Steve Dubb