How Have Women Been Challenged During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

“How can I work and take care of my kids? I don’t have any childcare right now.”

“Sorry, honey, but you’ll have to wait until after this Zoom call.”

“I didn’t have time to write that report today, but I’ll work a few more hours tonight to get it done.”

These have become common phrases in our daily lives during the last year—especially for women. It’s been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic started, causing seismic shifts in the way we live and work. While the pandemic has impacted everyone, research shows that women have had a particularly trying time.

How Have Women Been Challenged During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Work or Family?

COVID-19 has dealt a huge blow to women’s participation in the workforce. RBC Economics reports that from March through June 2020, the unemployment rate of Canadian women surpassed that of men for the first time in over three decades. Even more shocking, in the U.S., nearly three million women—especially Black and Latina women—have left the workforce during the past year.

Why has the impact been so great? It’s complicated. In an uncertain labour market, many women were furloughed or laid off. With schools and day care closures, and significant virus outbreaks in long-term care facilities, many others were forced to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for their children or elderly parents.

Unfortunately, those short-term decisions could have major long-term consequences. Canadian women are reporting declining financial health and less confidence in their ability to save for retirement. In fact, recent Mercer research shows women are retiring 30% less wealthy than men and must work two years longer to be retirement ready.

Stressed and Depressed

But right now, it’s the mental health impact that is truly concerning. As the pandemic continues, women are much more likely than men to be experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, according to a poll conducted on behalf of the Prosperity Project and CIBC.

Balancing work and home responsibilities, often including childcare or virtual school, is clearly a contributing factor. More than half of Canadian working mothers report feeling stressed, 47% say they are suffering from anxiety and 43% say they are depressed. Women are also at greater risk of domestic and sexual violence during the pandemic, especially when dealing with the increased stress and social isolation of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.

Not surprisingly, all these mental health challenges are starting to show up in benefits plan data, as more women turn to antidepressants—as well as negative coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol—to manage them.

It’s a dangerous cocktail, and one we can’t afford to ignore. The effects of this pandemic have already been severe and far-reaching. And it’s becoming clear that women will be feeling the aftershocks—both financially and psychologically—for years to come.

Webcast on Women and COVID-19

Let’s keep the discussion going. Join us for a webcast How Women Have Been Impacted by COVID-19 on May 27 at 3 p.m. ET to discuss the challenges women are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how employers and plan sponsors can help. The webcast is free to members!


Alyssa Hodder
Director, Education and Outreach – Canada

Fraud Prevention Institute for Employee Benefit Plans

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