Labour Market and Unpaid Childcare Trajectories by Gender During the COVID-19 Pandemic in South Africa: Lessons for Policy

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Mosomi, Jacqueline
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Measures taken to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the closure of Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres and Schools, presented working parents with a time allocation challenge. This is because individuals have had to balance office work, childcare, and housework. Results from the QLFS show that, although both men and women lost about the same number of jobs, more women have dropped out of the labour force leading to a slight increase in the gender labour force participation gap. This aggregate result, however, masks differences between different groups of women, for example, the labour force participation (LFP) gap among black Africans widened more than the LFP gap in the white sub-group. Investigation of labour market hours showed a widening of the hours gap between men and women by the first quarter of 2021. A further investigation of both hours worked and childcare hours using NIDS-CRAM reveals that, when labour market production and childcare are considered together, women work more hours than men. Women work about an hour less than men on average in the labour market, but more than make up for this by working between 1.5-2 hours more than men doing childcare. During the strictest part of the COVID-19 lockdown, this stretched to 3.5-4 hours more for childcare than men. An investigation of trajectories using sequence analysis shows that, over the course of the year between February 2020 and March 2021, women who had been working before the first lockdown were more likely than men to spend spells not working. Additionally, spells outside of the labour market more often coincided with long hours of childcare for women than for men. Of the sample of men and women who were employed in February 2020, only 62% of men and 51% of women were still employed a year later, while about 5% of women, and only 2.5% of men, became permanently not employed after February 2020. The policy implication here is that, there is need for the state to allow for the expansion of ECD centres by reducing registration bottlenecks and making these centres affordable to all by increasing funding. This will lift the burden for families, and especially women, and enable those who have dropped out of the labour market to return and increase employment as the ECD sector is one of the female dominated sectors.
COVID-19; Gender inequality; Labour force participation; Time allocation; Care burden