Working Paper

Essential Work and Emergency Childcare: Identifying Gender Differences in COVID-19 Effects on Labour Demand and Supply

Published: 2020

Non-technical Summary:

This study examines whether the COVID-19 crisis affects women and men differently in terms of employment, working hours and hourly wages outcomes, and whether the effects are demand or supply driven. As women and men are likely to be employed in different sectors of the economy, facing different labour demand shocks, and are likely to face different childcare responsibilities, it is important to ask whether (and how) women and men were affected differently by the COVID-19 crisis.
COVID-19 impacts are studied using administrative data on all Dutch employees up to 30 June 2020, focussing on the national lockdown and emergency childcare for essential workers in the Netherlands. A key policy response from the Dutch government was to classify economic sectors as essential or non-essential as part of an emergency childcare policy that only allowed essential workers to send their children to childcare or school during the lockdown from mid-March to the end of May 2020.

We find that the negative impact of COVID-19 is much larger for non-essential workers than for essential workers, suggesting an impact through reduced labour demand. In contrast, we show that both female and male essential workers experienced similar small effects of COVID-19 in employment and working hours. The COVID-19 shock did not seem to result in a widening of the gender gap in employment during the first six months of 2020. Although, on average, women and men were equally affected, female non-essential workers were more affected than male non-essential workers. In addition, we show that partnered men and women with young children were equally affected by the crisis as others, while single-parent essential workers experienced relatively large negative labour supply effects. Specifically, single mothers of preschool children in essential jobs, relative to other female essential workers, experienced a 0.5 percentage point larger loss in employment and a 2 to 3 percentage point larger loss in working hours.

Taken together, the evidence suggests there are labour market institutions in place in the Netherlands, such as the short-time work scheme and the generous provision of paid leave, that equally support female and male workers to remain employed while taking care of the family. In times of a strict but relatively short lockdown the measures in place appear sufficient to prevent a widening of gender gaps in labour market outcomes due to the COVID-19 shock. However, evidence of the larger impact for single parents suggests that the Dutch emergency childcare policy was not sufficient for single parents to balance family and paid work during the societal lockdown.

An updated version of this paper has been published as Meekes J, Hassink WHJ and Kalb G. (2023) Essential work and emergency childcare: identifying gender differences in COVID-19 effects on labour demand and supply. Oxford Economic Papers, 75(2), 393–417. DOI: 10.1093/oep/gpac030


Centre Member

Guyonne Kalb

Centre Friend

Jordy Meekes
Wolter H. J. Hassink