Women At The Frontlines Of COVID-19 Might Be Starting The Gender Role Reversal Of The Century

  •  April 22, 2020

Author: Brianna Wiest, ForbesWomen

Women are at the helm of fighting COVID-19. It’s not just that women make up 91% of nurses, 74% of healthcare workers and almost 62% of pharmaceutical professions. Having nearly half of the world’s children home from school means that many mothers are trying to teach, caretake and manage their workload simultaneously.

This is a significant challenge for most families, and is positioning us for an interesting gender role reversal, one that might be unprecedented in this century.

According to new research from Matthias Doepke and Jane Olmstead-Rumsey of Northwestern University, Titan Alon of the University of California San Diego and Michèle Tertilt of the University of Mannheim, the COVID-19 crisis might generate change in gender norms that defines our new “normal” in the decades to come. In the same way that WWII shifted these roles by putting more women in the workforce, COVID-19 is spurring a surge of male caregivers, as women make up the majority of “essential” jobs.

While women may be enduring the worst of the crisis at present, it might lead to male caretakers becoming more normal.

As of this January, women held more positions in the U.S. workforce than men. They also had more college degrees, but men were still paid more per hour, and as The Atlantic reported, women still did most of the family’s chores, as well as a greater percentage of childcare.

How this is changing?

While stay-at-home dads are becoming generally more popular, it’s certainly not the norm. However, for some women, having men contributing to more to the household — and give up their “breadwinner” status — might be essential to their success.

Jessica Valenti explains it like this:

“… American men are doing more than they have in past years: Fathers report spending about eight hours a week on child care, or three times as much as fathers in 1965…Men doing morehowever, is not the same thing as men doing enoughDespite progress made, mothers are still spending almost twice the amount of time that men do, 14 hours a week, on child care.”

The researchers suggest that might shift now.

“The economic downturn caused by the current COVID-19 outbreak has substantial implications for gender equality, both during the downturn and the subsequent recovery,” they wrote in the paper.

“Beyond the immediate crisis, there are opposing forces which may ultimately promote gender equality in the labor market. First, businesses are rapidly adopting flexible work arrangements, which are likely to persist. Second, there are also many fathers who now have to take primary responsibility for child care, which may erode social norms that currently lead to a lopsided distribution of the division of labor in house work and child care.”

“In a lot of cases, gender trumps money,” Kristin Smith, a visiting research associate professor at Dartmouth who wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on this, explains. “Our social roles are so much more powerful in decision-making than money.”

If it became more of the norm for men to, at minimum, equally share household responsibilities and caretaking duties, it would frankly be about time.

Women have been in the spotlight throughout this crisis, given how well countries with female leaders have responded. (It’s worth mentioning that back in 2008, banks led by women suffered less in a recession than others.)

Perhaps the crisis has not so much began to revolutionize the way we perceive household responsibilities, but instead shed light on the ongoing inequalities — and stressors — that still exist at home.

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