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Mothers of school-age children are most affected by COVID-19

EVANSTON, Ill. — In countries rich and poor, women experienced the largest declines in employment during the pandemic, largely due to childcare needs during school closures, new research from Northwestern University and others shows.

The working paper, “Gendered Impacts of Covid-19 in Developing Countries,” attempted to explain the underlying forces animating the disproportionate impact the pandemic-induced recession is having on women. The researchers focused on Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.

“As in many other countries, mothers of school-age children in Nigeria experienced the largest employment declines during school closures,” said Matthias Doepke, professor of economics at Northwestern University. “Overall, at the height of the pandemic women’s employment was down by 9 percentage points compared to before.” 

The study also found that women’s employment rebounded much faster in low-income countries. Large income losses, unabetted by government support, increased the labor supply during the economic recovery in those countries, the researchers found. In high-income countries, such as the United States, women’s employment losses have been persistent, with their labor force participation rate still below pre-pandemic levels.

As parents around the world grappled with school closures, the researchers saw evidence that learning activities at home were reduced in low-income countries compared to high-income countries. In Nigeria, only a small minority of children had access to virtual learning, and more than a third of children did not do any learning activities at all during closures.

The researchers warned that learning losses in developing countries are more pronounced, with many older children dropping out of school to work during the pandemic.

The researchers also sounded the alarm that older children in the developing world are experiencing learning losses, with many dropping out to work during the pandemic, possibly limiting their future earnings and their ability to start a household.

Other contributors to the paper include Titan Alon (UC San Diego), Kristina Manysheva (Northwestern) and Michèle Tertilt (University of Mannheim).