Women Disproportionately Affected by Coronavirus Economic Crisis in Israel, Study Shows

Figures point to harder hit for female workers regardless of their field, further deepening existing gender gaps

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Sivan Klingbail
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University students attend a protest over the economic crisis, Jerusalem, May 7, 2020.
University students attend a protest over the economic crisis, Jerusalem, May 7, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

The coronavirus pandemic has hit women’s jobs harder than men’s, overall. Since March 1 through May 10, some 875,000 Israelis aged 20-67 filed for unemployment, of whom 56% are women. Young women were even harder hit; of the 20-24 age group, some 60.5% of the newly unemployed are women, versus 39.5% men, according to figures drafted by Taub Center researcher Liora Bowers.

Bowers found that the harm to women’s employment wasn’t a factor of their industry. In Israel, the percentage of women filing unemployment was disproportionate to their representation in the industry, with the exception of real estate. For example, 83% of health care workers who filed for unemployment are women, while they make up 76% of workers in the sector; and some 54% of the newly unemployed in science technology are women, while they account for only 41% of workers in the sector.

Women’s jobs have taken a hit not only in Israel. The American research institutes Pew and NBER found that American women are more likely to have lost their jobs in the COVID-19 crisis, because they tend to work in fields that have been harder hit by the crisis.

In Israel, however, women are disproportionately unemployed regardless of their field, found Bowers. “First off, the workers who were harmed are the weaker ones. Women earn some 30% less than their male colleagues, and also work fewer hours. In addition, families that need to decide who’s going to give up their job in order to care for children will usually choose to sacrifice the woman’s job, since in most families the woman earns less,” says Bowers. This phenomenon is broader in Israel because Israelis have more children on average than citizens of other developed nations.

The economic crisis could further deepen economic gaps between women and men, writes Bowers. In previous economic crises, people who lost their jobs generally could not find a new job with the same pay, she notes. Not only could this decrease women’s salaries compared to men, it could also cut women’s pension savings, she says.

However, the crisis could also bring opportunity for women, if it increases the options to work from home, Bowers states.

“In high-paying fields like finances and high-tech, we saw that 61% of high-tech workers switched to working from home as of the end of April, and 46% of finance workers started working from home. Remote work enables women to participate more easily in fields with high salaries, if the employers in these fields, such as high-tech and finances, continue to allow workers to work from home after the crisis is over. I believe more women will enter these fields, and ultimately gender-related salary gaps could lessen,” she states.

However, the opportunity could vanish quickly. By early June, 39% of high-tech workers were still working from home, but only 10% in the financial sector were. While a survey of high-tech companies shows that many are interested to shift to remote work and permit flexibility, most employers in the financial industry are not interested, she states.

This would be a loss for women as well as for men, she states. “Flexibility that permits working for home lets [men] be more involved in raising children. This crisis was the first time that [many] men had to take on a more significant share of household tasks,” she notes. “We see that in countries that permit men to take leave when children are born, that men who did take leave were more involved in their children’s lives and also become more involved in the household,” she states.

Bowers points to initial studies in Israel and abroad that found that men spent more time caring for their children during the crisis, particularly if they were unemployed.