If the She-cession is over, why are mothers screaming?

Jan 30, 2022

A group of mothers in the US have been meeting up on a football field to scream.

(You have probably seen the photos.)

Frustrated with school-closures and almost two years of raising children in a pandemic, these mums are LETTING IT OUT.

It made international news this week.

But why are the mothers screaming?

When the pandemic first hit there was A LOT of talk about this being THE FIRST FEMALE RECESSION. Some people called it a She-cession. Economic downturns tend to hurt men’s employment more, this crisis was said to be different.

THIS was a FEMALE crisis. Maybe the first one ever in the sense that more women than men would lose their jobs.

The logic went like this:

  1. When schools shut women were likely to take on additional caregiving responsibilities, this would force many of them to either quit their jobs or reduce the hours they spent in paid work.

  2. Many of the sectors most impacted by lockdowns, like retail and hospitality, employed a lot of women. (In a “normal” recession male-dominated industries like finance and construction tend to be hit first).

But this narrative has actually not played out quite like this.

FIRSTLY. The amount of women who lost their jobs during the pandemic seems to vary A LOT between countries.

In the US women did lose their jobs. In Germany they basically didn’t. And both of these countries shut schools for similar(ish) amounts of time.

This points to the fact that the “She-cession” seems to have been a political choice. In countries that put furlough schemes in place, like Britain and Germany, women faired better.

(Since the outcomes for women in terms of employment varied so much between countries it will be extremely interesting to see what future research says about which policies helped and didn’t help.)

SECONDLY. Britain is a really interesting case. In the UK full-time female employment has actually increased over the course of the crisis. That’s the exact opposite of what people feared would happen.

Yes, British mothers took on additional housework and homeschooling BUT they didn’t drop out of paid work more than men because of this.

Some of it could have to do with the introduction of flexible work from home. Women who had to work reduced hours before have now been able to increase their hours because they are not tied to an office.

Studies done on the US point out that yes, parents have had AN AWFUL TIME during the pandemic. But them having had such an AWFUL TIME is not what has driven women out of paid employment in North America .

So what does this mean?

That the mothers meeting up to scream in football fields are being IRRATIONAL?

Not at all!

Mothers are screaming because in addition to looking after THE BABY they have had to deal with homeschooling its older siblings. They are screaming because of all the extra housework created by families staying at home for months during lockdowns. Cooking meal after meal with no end in sight… They are screaming because they have been isolated from other parents, relatives and from the support systems that normally help with the hard work of raising children.

That’s what those screams are about. And these things we don’t tend to talk about (or measure) in economic terms.

But we probably should.

Happy Sunday!

ps. I got back this week from a book tour in Spain because yes, Mother of Invention: How Good Ideas Get Ignored In An Economy Built For Men is now available in Spanish!


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