September rhymes with starting over. The rhythm of work, school, classes, responsibilities, time for everyone, whoever has it. After a year and a half of pandemic, Spain faces this new course with 70% of the vaccinated population, with the educational system at full capacity and with a labor market between telework and face-to-face, not always in equal parts. At the base of the pyramid, more forgotten (still) than in other moments of the pandemic, care. Without new measures on the horizon, the current scenario threatens to exacerbate the gender gap and inequality. Data and experts have been warning for months about a situation that is repeated.
The pandemic and confinement brought an increased burden of care that households had to shoulder. Although the return of schools and institutes and other services –from domestic employment to day centers for the elderly and dependents– seems to have alleviated the situation, the ‘new normal’ of work-life balance continues to fall mainly on women.
“Schools open but in many places there are fewer extracurricular activities or families prefer not to send their children to avoid risks, many homes that had grandparents no longer do so, either still out of fear or because they have lost them or their situation has worsened. , also because there are those who returned to town after the pandemic. There are people who have to take care of their parents because they have fallen ill, or maybe one of them has died and the other has been left alone, there are those who out of fear took their parents out of Residences. Those who do not have family support or are unable to outsource part of their care in some way tend to leave work. That, in a context in which women’s employment is, on average, more vulnerable and their wages lower, it means that if someone has to stay at home, it is them, “explains sociologist Marga Torre, a specialist in occupational segregation and inequalities.
The active population, that is, the one actively seeking a job, has grown similarly between women and men in recent quarters, as shown by the latest Labor Force Survey (EPA), although the difference by sex remains : in Spain there are still 1.3 million more men than women with a job or looking for one.
In the inactive population, which is not in the labor market for different reasons, the gender gap is clearly revealed: almost 600,000 women do not seek employment because they are engaged in care tasks, 150,000 more than when the pandemic began. Figures very far from those of men: 55,000 are inactive for this reason, about 20,000 more than at the beginning of 2020.
The economist Libertad González detects a “quite symmetrical” effect of the pandemic for men and women in terms of employment, which does not mean that the situation is comparable given “the gender gap that we drag.” “The destruction of employment has been able to affect women more than the previous crisis but because it was a crisis highly concentrated in masculinized sectors, such as construction. In this case, some sectors hit by job loss and ERTE were more feminized, but also others who have regained employment, such as health or education, “he points out.
Who puts the flexibility
The key would be not so much in the complete abandonment of employment as in reducing the intensity of that employment: “The problem is not so much that women have not returned to work but that they have done so with all the extra burden of care” . The economist points out that the surveys show an increase in paid and unpaid working hours for women but not for men, or not of the same magnitude.
The trend is reflected in several papers that analyze the situation in different countries, with different socio-economic conditions but with one point in common: during the pandemic, women are more likely to abandon their jobs to cover other tasks that require time and attention, and tend to reduce their working hours paid or adapted to care, much more than men. In the US, for example, women with young children reduced, on average, their hours of paid work four to five times more than men in the same situation, according to the investigation from various experts in the labor market, gender and inequalities.
A survey by the CSIF union and the National Commission for the Rationalization of Hours made public this summer indicated that 72% of those surveyed confirmed that the burden of care that women are enduring has increased. A study carried out by economists Libertad González and Lidia Farré during the first part of the pandemic indicated that, although men increased their participation in all tasks, from cleaning to raising children, eating food or cleaning clothes, this increase did not offset the growth in unpaid work in households. The conclusion: women continue to be the majority in charge of each of these tasks.
Women would therefore be providing the labor flexibility that is allowing us to overcome a care crisis that the pandemic has set off. Research and surveys launched by the University of Valencia and by the Association Yo No Renuncio de Malasmadres, respectively, warn about how women are the ones who deploy strategies so that the reconciliation of homes is possible, from modifying their working hours and hours from sleep to give up any other type of activity.
The sociologist from the Public University of Navarra Irene Lapuerta adds another element: the mental load. “The tasks of planning, organization and anticipation have been increasing in a scenario that is still not entirely clear, something tremendously stressful and that leads, no longer to double shifts, but to triple shifts. In some communities, for example, the school begins with intensive days tomorrow that will be reviewed later, but with the uncertainty of what will happen. All this weighs more on women in a context in which there has not really been progress in co-responsibility “, she says.
The government’s response to the care crisis has been tepid. The so-called MeCuida Plan has consisted of facilitating adaptations and reductions in working hours, even up to 100%. The unions have asked for more ambitious measures that contemplate, for example, subsidies to make up for the lack of wages based on income. The Ministry of Equality launched the Co-Responsible Plan, endowed with 200 million that have been distributed among the autonomous communities to finance care initiatives that will be launched.
To return or not to the office
Teleworking has become a formula to “facilitate survival”, rather than conciliation, points out Lapuerta. Returning to face-to-face work, encouraged by the evolution of the pandemic, and their coexistence with teleworking is also a risk in terms of gender. “The frequency of teleworking has increased and it is possible that there are still many people who continue to telework, although the EPA shows more women than men. It is a double-edged sword: the risk is that we are the women who assume it more than the men. men, something that will affect in terms of promotion and conciliation, and that will emphasize that women continue to be the main caregivers and are more at home “, Libertad González adventure.
The sociologist Marga Torre also believes that teleworking can influence future imbalances: “Whoever stays at home will continue to assume more domestic burden and that person will also have more flexibility. In the short term, this may affect the hours of work. Paid work of men and women In the long term, it will have an effect on promotions Spain is a very face-to-face country, inertias occur in the workplace, and in the canes after work, which is where informal dynamics unfold. That reinforces the mechanisms that tend to exclude women. ”
To the gender gap we must add another, that of class. Teleworking implies a “bias for the most vulnerable and lower-middle class people,” Lapuerta warns. Marga Torre also warns that social and gender inequality feed on these dynamics. It is in households whose members have more vulnerable occupations in economic and stability terms where women tend to abandon their employment more or reduce it if there are care tasks to attend to, she explains.
And is that the ‘new normal’ is different from the ‘normal’ in many things, but when we talk about care and conciliation it suspiciously resembles the previous one.