Why Women’s Job Confidence Is Much Lower Than Men’s In Pandemic Economy

As coronavirus vaccination programs continue to roll out across the country, Americans are hoping for a swift economic recovery. But evidence is building that the recovery won’t equally benefit everyone—especially when it comes to women’s employment. 

The gulf between men’s and women’s confidence levels in the economy and their personal financial situations has been evident since the start of the pandemic, based on the Ipsos-Forbes Advisor U.S. Consumer Confidence Weekly Tracker. The survey, conducted by Ipsos, measures consumer sentiment over time.

At no point since March 2020 has women’s confidence surpassed that of male respondents. This week, men’s overall confidence in the economy and their personal finances reached 55.9 (out of a potential 100), while women’s confidence was 48—a nearly 8-point difference.

Pandemic confidence levels, men vs. womenLisa Rowan | Forbes Advisor

Jobs Outlook for Women Lags as Pandemic Drags on

A similar gap exists between men’s and women’s reported jobs confidence—that is, their job security confidence, job loss experience and employment outlook. Jobs confidence has increased for both men and women since the initial shock of the pandemic spread, but that gap has begun to widen in the past two months. 

Pandemic jobs confidence for men vs womenLisa Rowan | Forbes Advisor

Why such a noticeable confidence gap when the unemployment rate has been improving steadily since reaching its pandemic high of 14.8% in April 2020? 

The overall unemployment rate is still 6.7%—twice its pre-pandemic level—and the Congressional Budget Office anticipates it will take years for the labor market to fully bounce back, even if other economic indicators recover as soon as this year. 

When you break down the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ unemployment rates by gender, it appears that men and women are facing nearly equal rates of unemployment after an initial spike of job losses. Women felt a greater impact of initial closures, which had a devastating impact on sectors where women were predominantly employed, especially the leisure, hospitality and retail sectors. However, in general, women have been able to find new jobs at a similar rate as men. 

Pandemic unemploymentLisa Rowan | Forbes Advisor

But looking at the unemployment rate alone doesn’t clearly illustrate how many women are no longer counted as unemployed because millions have dropped out of the workforce altogether and are not currently seeking work. Nearly 3 million women aged 20 and over left the workforce between Dec. 2019 and Dec. 2020, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. 

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One of the primary reasons women have left the workforce during the pandemic is to care for their families. School and child care closures, along with lost income for families who previously paid for child care, have given many parents no choice but to stay home with their kids—and that burden has fallen primarily on women.

The labor participation rate for women with children dropped 3.2 percentage points over the course of 2020, while the rate for men with children dropped about 1.8 percentage points, according to a Rand analysis of BLS data.

Women’s participation in the workforce had only just started to make a comeback in the past five years, says Ryan Nunn, assistant vice president of community development and engagement at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. 

He explained that women’s labor force participation peaked—after decades of growth—around the year 2000. Workforce participation for women notably dropped during the Great Recession, even though job losses during that time tended to impact sectors dominated by men, like construction and manufacturing. It was only in 2015 that women started jumping back into the workforce in a substantial way—only to get knocked back out when the pandemic arrived.

Nunn, who recently co-wrote a report on mothers’ outsized rate of workforce exit during the pandemic, shared his own opinions on the economy, which don’t reflect official positions of the Federal Reserve System.

He says that a year into the pandemic, the employment rate for fathers is picking back up, according to his analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey. And women who don’t have kids are also getting back to their pre-pandemic levels of employment. But mothers of school-age children are still stuck at home.

As the overall economy continues to recover, the situation for mothers will naturally improve to some extent, Nunn adds. “But we need to be thinking about the whole basket of policies and institutions that help people get back into the workforce,” he says. 

Read more: Every Jobs Policy Joe Biden Has Proposed: Unemployment, Paid Leave, Minimum Wage On President’s Wish List

Policies like parental leave, sick leave, unemployment insurance and reemployment services all work together in helping parents figure out their path back to work. An emphasis on supporting families who need child care options may help accelerate the path back to work for many parents, he says.

“These things have always been important,” Nunn says, speaking of social programs that boost workers and families. “But they’ve been thrown into relief by the recession and the pandemic. A lot of folks are going to struggle getting back into and staying in the workforce if they’re facing barriers.” 

Survey methodology: Ipsos, which surveyed 953 respondents online on Feb. 2 and 3, provided the results exclusively to Forbes Advisor. The survey is conducted weekly to track consumer sentiment over time, using a series of 11 questions to determine whether consumers feel positively or negatively about the current state of the economy and where it looks to be going in the future. 

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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