One year on, COVID-19 has driven women out of the labor force

EVANSTON, Ill. — Ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, economists and social scientists from Northwestern University say women in the labor force have seen a disproportionate economic impact from COVID-19.

Leigh Thompson is professor at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and author of “Negotiating the Sweet Spot. The Art of Leaving Nothing on the Table.” She can be reached by contacting Molly Lynch at 773-505-9719 or 

Quote from Professor Thompson:
“We’re in the middle of a ‘she-cession’ where women are three times more likely than men not to work during the pandemic due to childcare constraints. While men increased childcare and homeschooling responsibilities to 4.7 hours per day, women increased to 6.1 hours per day. And from February to May of 2020, 11.5 million women were laid off, versus 9 million men.”

Paola Sapienza is professor of finance and Donald C. Clark/HSBC Chair in Consumer Finance at Kellogg. She can be reached by contacting Molly Lynch at 773-505-9719 or

Quote from Professor Sapienza:
“The path to recovery for women in the labor force will be long. The evidence shows that the pandemic put abundant burden on both parents but most of the responsibility still fell on women. The Center for American Progress reports that even a 5% decline in maternal labor force participation would undo the past 25 years of progress. This progress has been slow over time and a setback could have long-term consequences. However, the answer to many of this is understanding the government’s response and implemented policies to address the challenges that women are experiencing.”

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Ellen Taaffe is clinical assistant professor of leadership and director of Women’s Leadership Programming at Kellogg. She can be reached by contacting Molly Lynch at 773-505-9719 or

Quote from Professor Taaffe:
“The pandemic made visible the disproportionate amount of emotional and physical labor that women hold. For women, the days have grown longer, blurring the boundaries between work and home. I expect a rise in empathetic inclusive leadership in business, a whole new way of working tied to outcomes instead of in-office face time, and renegotiations in homes and communities. As companies continue to focus on diversity and inclusion, the visibility that COVID-19 created could be the silver lining catalyst we need to reset how we work.”

Matthias Doepke is professor of economics in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern and author of “Love, Money and Parenting: How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids.” He can be reached by contacting Stephanie Kulke at

Quote from Professor Doepke:
“Women are coming out of this crisis less equal than men. Many women have left the labor market entirely, and a large share of the women who were unemployed or reduced hours during crisis will experience lower earnings and worsened career opportunities in the years to come. One year on, while unemployment has come down, women’s participation in the workforce hit a 33-year low in January 2021.”

Christine Percheski is associate professor of sociology and faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern. She studies family demography, economic inequality and how ongoing changes in family life are intertwined with social inequality in the United States. She can be reached at or by contacting Stephanie Kulke at 773-501-4360.

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Quote from Professor Percheski:
“In the U.S., where we have weak worker protections and few provisions for paid time off and family leave, families had to improvise private solutions to caregiving challenges. More women than men left the labor force to care for children, supervise remote schooling and provide eldercare. Progress toward gender equity in employment and pay could easily be set back by decades without strong corrective action by employers and government.”

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