While the global pandemic has already killed many people of all genders, recent research suggests that women are biologically less likely to contract the novel coronavirus. However, there are several factors of the pandemic that may hit women harder than men, especially economically.
Although women may be less prone to contracting the virus, they are more likely to work in roles where they are exposed to the virus — and are less able to vacate those roles.
According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, women are much more likely to work in service occupations than men, over-representing in roles such as personal care aides, home health aides, nursing assistants, cooks and food service staff.
Women in service occupations are often working closely with people, many with people who are immunocompromised, putting them at greater risk of contracting the virus from parts of the population who may be more prone to contracting or carrying it. And because large numbers of service professionals are hourly employees, their access to paid leave and health care is more precarious than most salaried employees with more robust benefits. That means they are also likely to work with colleagues who are unable to take days off when they're sick or determine the cause of their illness to decide whether or not to self-quarantine.
According to the Institute's 2013 analysis, one-third of employed Hispanic women (32.2 percent) and more than one in four employed black (28.2 percent) and Native American (27.4 percent) women work in service occupations, making many Women of Color particularly vulnerable to the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Women in service occupations — particularly those tied to the restaurant, events and travel industries — may face increased difficulty retaining their roles as national policy calls for social distancing. A lack of income further reduces the capital that large groups of women have available to seek medical care, to self-isolate or to care for their dependents, not to mention to do things like pay rent.
This financial insecurity, combined with other economic hurdles women of all professions may be tasked with, is devastating.
We all know that women are disproportionately tasked with childcare — according to research cited in Forbes, women are eight times more likely than men to look after sick children or manage their children's schedules. With schools and other forms of child care closing, women will likely be required to take time off work — decreasing income for women without paid leave and increasing the barriers to them and their dependents receiving proper medical care, paying the non-coronavirus-related bills or, dare I suggest, investing in their futures.
Even women with more flexible, salaried positions who are tasked with child care may face decreased productivity and damage to their professional reputations as professional work moves remote and employers increasingly survey the productivity of their employees. This could result in lost opportunities when business is back to normal, or the loss of their position if cuts are made.
Women in China and other countries where coronavirus is more widespread than the United States are reporting other gender-specific barriers to work productivity and physical health.
Women who are pregnant are facing increased difficulties receiving medical care due to overburdened health care systems, women are facing increased levels of domestic violence within quarantine and more complications are sure to arise.
Articles like these — round ups of injustices — are often ended with a general air that individual actions don't matter.
While pandemics are particularly mind-boggling because they are vague and surrounding, I think we can find a silver lining in that nature, too. While we certainly need institutions to create a safety net for our most vulnerable, to bandage our economy and to treat this disease, the pandemic itself isn't an institution that is so big and powerful it require a years-long revolution to overthrow it. Instead, small, and sometimes sacrificial, individual actions do matter — social distancing, practicing proper hygiene and kindness.