Working from home and physical proximity during the COVID-19 pandemic: implications for gender inequality in the South African labour market

Jacqueline Mosomi, University of Cape Town
Amy Thornton, University of Cape Town
Nicola Branson, University of Cape Town

Previous economic downturns such as the recent 2008-2009 global financial crisis have tended to disproportionately affect male employment due to greater contractions in male dominated industries. However, South African national labour market data shows that men and women lost approximately the same number of jobs between quarter 1 and 2 of 2020. We combine South African labour market data with occupational work context data from O*NET to show that, the higher ratio of female to male job loss in 2020 compared to the 2008/2009 global financial crisis is related to gendered occupational sorting and the health risk nature of the COVID-19 recession. Employment change between quarter 1 and 2 of 2020 is well explained by factors specific to COVID-19 social distancing protocols. Occupations deemed non-essential, those that rank high in physical proximity and those that are difficult to carry out from home were most likely to shed jobs. The majority of female dominated occupations rank high in physical proximity and these were most vulnerable during lockdown. The ability to work from home emerges as the most important protective factor for job loss, however, less that 10% of the population could work from home suggesting worsening inequalities in the labour market.

Keywords: COVID-19, Human capital and labour markets, Inequality, Economic analysis

See paper.

  Presented in Session 105. Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Relations