By Pallavi Gogoi| October 28, 2020
The number of women in the workforce overtook men for a brief period earlier this year. But the uncomfortable truth is that in their homes, women are still fitting into stereotypical roles of doing the bulk of cooking, cleaning and parenting. It's another form of systemic inequality within a 21st century home that the pandemic is laying bare. Malte Mueller/fStop/Getty Images
"Women are seeing the fabric of their lives unravel during the pandemic. Nowhere is that more visible than on the job.
In September, an eye-popping 865,000 women left the U.S. workforce — four times more than men.
The coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on households, and women are bearing the brunt of it. Not only have they lost the most jobs from the beginning of the pandemic, but they are exhausted from the demands of child care and housework — and many are now seeing no path ahead but to quit working.
Women have made great strides over the years: More women than men are enrolled in college, in medical schools and law schools.
The number of women in the workforce even overtook men for a brief period of three months through February this year.
But the uncomfortable truth is that in their homes, women are still fitting into stereotypical roles of doing the bulk of cooking, cleaning and parenting. It's another form of systemic inequality within a 21st century home that the pandemic is laying bare."
Already, their parents are getting sick and dying. Their kids are falling behind. So along with doing everything else, working becomes impossible.
"The problem is that right now a lot of women don't really have choices, right?" says Martha Gimbel, a labor economist at the nonprofit initiative Schmidt Futures. "They can't send their kids to school. Someone has to supervise the learning. Someone has to deal with the cooking. Someone has to deal with the cleaning, and it's falling onto them. And so they can't make choices that they want to make because they're being restricted in all these ways."
Women are back in 1988
The pandemic's female exodus has decidedly turned back the clock by at least a generation, with the share of women in the workforce down to levels not seen since 1988.
A growing, prosperous economy depends on a large and committed workforce, with women playing a vital role. If women decide to stay on the sidelines, the very dynamism of the U.S. economy is at risk as many households lose half of their earnings and productive capacity. This trend could even turn back the clock on gender equity, with harmful consequences to society and the economy.
Economists are worried.