Pandemic can change couples division of labor and reduce disparity

Pandemic can change couples division of labor and reduce disparity

Having a successful career requires investment and devotion. Have kids, too. This is what the impasse that has confronted millions of women over the last five decades, at least, is about, with important impacts on their income and their autonomy.

Given that the division of care work tends to fall more on women than men, the result is an imbalance within heteroaffective couples in terms of their availability for a career and, therefore, for more opportunities for better remuneration.

For economic historian Claudia Goldin, this dynamic is key to understanding the persistent pay gap between men and women with similar education and experience in the United States.

“Women with care responsibilities need flexible jobs so that they are available for the demands of children and the elderly,” explains the Harvard professor to sheet. “Meanwhile, men disproportionately occupy higher-paying jobs because they require full dedication and overtime, which is incompatible with the family routine of children who need to have dinner at 6pm, for example.”

In her new book, “Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey Toward Equity” (Princeton University Press), the Harvard University professor (USA) analyzes a wealth of data on work and compensation and highlights the efforts made by women with superior to circumvent conflicts between career and family, which can be changed from the experience of the pandemic.

According to Goldin, the pandemic and the adoption of a remote work model, in addition to highlighting the importance of caring for children, the home and the elderly, “proved that flexible arrangements can be very productive while at the same time demands for more demanding jobs have decreased.”

For the economist, this change tends to “change the relative prices of flexible jobs, more occupied by women, in relation to the most demanding jobs, more occupied by men”, with an impact on the persistent wage gap between genders.

As an example of these changes, she points out that large acquisitions from the corporate world continued to occur during the pandemic without executives having to cross the world on plane trips to consolidate them in person during the global health crisis.

“We found that we can work from home in one city while our job is hundreds of miles away,” says Goldin. “Being able to sign contracts without having to travel long distances has also reduced the costs of these operations and the demand for these positions.”

“Before, if a woman with children was offered a job where she had to fly to Zurich every 15 days, she would probably have to turn down that position because it is not consistent with her family life, even if it was the type of job better paid and more in demand. And this type of position, with the pandemic, has become more flexible.”

It is known that the pandemic has affected the labor market, with particular prejudice to women and those in the informal market. According to the ILO (International Labor Organization), the rate of jobs destroyed globally during the pandemic was, respectively, 4.2% for women and 3% for men. The recovery of these vacancies has also been slower for women than for men in Brazil.

By focusing her research on women with higher education from the 1900s onwards, when the US already had dozens of universities while Brazil still had none (the first was founded in 1920), Goldin restricts her observations to a very American and very privileged.

In the first decade of the last century, universities in the US were already training women who, according to the book, with very few exceptions, dedicated their lives to their careers.

From the Second World War (1939-1945), the “baby boom” made women put off their careers in order to be mothers and take care of children first, factors that were later reversed.

According to Pew Research, in the 2010s, women with higher education outnumbered men with the same years of education in proportion. Today, 39% of Americans over the age of 25 have gone through college, compared to 37% of men.

“Women of successive generations knew that, in order to have a career, they had to postpone any family project. And this had an impact on the average age at which women marry, which continues to rise, as well as the median age at which they have their first marriage. son,” explains Goldin. This was when it was possible for these professionals to have children.

The economist explains that the crossroads between work and motherhood dropped birth rates in the United States in the 1970s. When fertilization technologies allowed women to have children after age 40, with more consolidated careers, other factors began to impact the wage gap between the genres.

Reduced factors that previously kept women at a disadvantage in the market, such as worse education, discrimination against workers who become pregnant or even less valued occupational choices, their persistence to this day requires other explanations, which she points out are mainly in the advent of children. .

Goldin says that he does not believe that there is any single public policy capable of dealing with the complexity of this professional and family equation for couples. “There is no government magic wand that can bring about this change.”

For her, three changes have the potential to have a great impact on the wage gap that still remains between genders. First, the aforementioned shift in the relative prices of flexible versus demanding jobs.

“The second point concerns the relative price of day care for child care and caregivers for the elderly. The Democratic Party’s project of a free and universal preschool would be able to reduce the parents with the care of their children, which the pandemic also proved to be essential”, he celebrates. “And I’m very excited that proposals like this are coming up in a country like the US.”

The third point highlighted by the Harvard professor is precisely the one that, according to Goldin, changes more slowly: “Changing social norms and involving men more in care so that they realize that equity in the couple is important”.

“I know that there is research that shows that men today, especially the more educated ones, want more professional equality with their partners and greater involvement in raising their children”, he says. But they are apparently still in the minority.

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