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Gender Implications of COVID-19 Unemployment

Between February and March 2020, the Canadian unemployment rate jumped from 5.6% to 7.8%. This was driven, in large part, by increases in temporary layoffs for occupations in sales and service, education, law, and social, community and government services. As non-essential businesses were forced to close, unemployment in these (and other) occupations grew substantially. This led us to ask whether the labour market impacts of COVID-19 have been different by gender. Specifically, has the burden been borne disproportionately by women?

One way to do this is by comparing — by broad occupational category — the share of women unemployed to their employment shares. For instance, imagine that in February women held 80% of retail jobs but accounted for 80% of retail job losses in March. While still being massively affected, the job losses for women would at least be proportional to their weight in that sector. Following this approach, Table 1 shows the female share of total employment in February versus the female share of total unemployment in March for ten broad occupational categories.

For all but two occupations, the female share of unemployment in March was higher than their share of employment in February. For example, for occupations in education, law, and social, community and government services, the female share of unemployment in March was about 80% (whereas the female share of employment in this sector was less than 70% in February). Between February and March, as unemployment rose dramatically, shares of female unemployment by occupation increased, except in art, culture, recreation and sport. Overall, we can see that women have been harder hit by unemployment — compared to their employment shares — in nearly every job category. This tells us that, by occupation, the distribution of unemployed workers skews more heavily towards women than we might expect.

Table 1. Gender Implications of the February and March 2020 Labour Force Survey Results

Female Share of Unemployment March 20201 Female Share of Employment February 20202
Management occupations 38.5 35.3
Business, finance and administration occupations 69.3 68.3
Natural and applied sciences and related occupations 17.8 23.2
Health occupations 89.8 79.3
Occupations in education, law and social, community and government services 79.1 69.8
Occupations in art, culture, recreation and sport 54.7 54.3
Sales and service occupations 56.0 54.7
Trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations 10.4 6.5
Natural resources, agriculture and related production occupations 26.7 18.0
Occupations in manufacturing and utilities 36.2 30.4

1. Female share of unemployment is the number of unemployed females divided by the total number of unemployed.
2. Female share of employment is the number of employed females divided by the total number of employed.
Source: LMIC calculations based on Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey, February and March 2020. Figures are seasonally unadjusted.

Moving forward, discussions around the labour market impacts of COVID-19 on women should consider both occupation-specific impacts (i.e., female-dominated occupations such as education) but also where unemployment may be falling disproportionately on women. As part of our efforts to better under the implications of COVID-19 on the labour market, we will continue to monitor these developments as data become available.


As an economist with LMIC, Brittany Feor contributes to the accessibility and analysis of labour market information, and brings expertise in quantitative research.

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