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June 09, 2020

Working from home highlights inequality

Working from home highlights inequality

The ongoing coronavirus-related lockdowns have highlighted the fact that having a home office is a kind of privilege that has not only created new inequalities but deepened pre-existing imbalances. A study done during the first phase of the lockdown in Germany has found that people with higher incomes, with a few exceptions where physical presence is essential, have had more opportunities to do remote work. Although the study has found that gender inequality is not very prominent when it comes to remote work, Katja Möhring, professor at the University of Mannheim and co-author of the study, has noted that “mothers who work from home are mostly reducing their working hours now.”

Prof Almudena Sevilla and Prof Sarah Smith have found that mothers spend a greater time caring for children compared to their partners. “Families with young children (aged <=12) have been doing the equivalent of a 40-hour working week of additional childcare since the lockdown measures closed schools and nurseries. Most of the burden of additional childcare has been on mothers, who perform around ten hours more childcare per week than fathers,” they write in their opinion piece.

Whilst there is an imbalance in the number of hours each parent spends caring for their children, Prof Sevilla and Prof Smith believe that lockdown can also be an opportunity to restore the balance: “The experience of working from home may help to accelerate a move to more flexible working arrangements. Because when men are working from home, the burden of childcare is more equally shared, this potential shift to additional work performed from home could lead to a longer-term increase in gender equality in childcare.”

Nevertheless, working from home can be a challenge as the Economic Policy Institute in Washington has highlighted. Less than 30% of workers in the US can work from home and the numbers vary largely depending on factors such as race and ethnicity. Asian-Americans and white people in the country are the two groups who are able to do the highest proportion of remote work, 37% and 29.9% respectively, but only 16% of Hispanics and Latinos in the country are able to work from home. “Covid-19 magnifies the growth of inequality that we have experienced in this country in the past 40 years,” Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute said.

Read Almudena Sevilla and Sarah Smith’s opinion piece Childcare during Covid-19.

Read more Covid-19 content on IZA World of Labor. You can also find our recent opinion pieces on the pandemic and its effects here.