Pandemic causes women’s employment to hit 30-year low

By James Langton | July 16, 2020 | Last updated on July 16, 2020
2 min read
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Women are feeling the effects of Covid-19 on Canada’s job market more than men, undoing decades of progress, according to new research from RBC Economics.

In a new report, RBC said that the pandemic has slashed women’s participation in the workforce from an all-time high to its lowest level in more than 30 years.

Unlike past recessions, the current economic turmoil is most acute in industries that are dominated by women, such as retail, food services, and accommodation, the report noted.

At the same time, the absence of school and childcare disproportionately affects women, who often shoulder a greater share of child-rearing responsibilities.

“Employment among women with toddlers or school aged children fell 7% between February and May compared to a decline of 4% among fathers of children the same age,” the report noted.

For single mothers, employment dropped 12% from February to June, compared to a 7% decline among single fathers, it said.

At the same time, women’s employment is recovering more slowly than men’s, the report said.

“Despite absorbing 51% of job losses in March and April, women accounted for just 45% of job gains in May and June as economic activity restarted,” it said.

RBC warned that the ground lost by women in the workforce isn’t likely to quickly rebound.

The report said that women accounted for approximately 45% of the decline in hours worked during the downturn, but that they are only expected to see about 35% of the improvement in hours worked.

This, in turn, will weigh on the overall economic rebound.

“Certainly, this year’s recovery will not be enough to return women’s labour force participation to its pre-Covid trend — and GDP growth could be in jeopardy unless the hours worked by women picks up,” the report said.

To support women returning to work, improved access to childcare and more flexible working arrangements are essential, the report suggested.

“Covid-19 has created a hole which will take a long time to fill — ensuring that women return to the labour market is critical to Canada’s recovery and ongoing success,” it said.

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James Langton

James is a senior reporter for and its sister publication, Investment Executive. He has been reporting on regulation, securities law, industry news and more since 1994.