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Women Fear Pandemic Job Loss More Than Men

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Comfort in job switching has diminished.

Key points:

  • During the pandemic, worries about job loss have surged, especially for women, an Indeed survey shows.  
  • With the labor market weak, men have become 8.7% and women 14.2% less comfortable switching jobs.
  • Before the pandemic, women were less concerned about job loss than men, but their worries have climbed more than three times faster than men’s over the past year.

The pandemic has introduced uncertainty into nearly every aspect of daily life, from shopping for groceries to seeing friends and family. That uncertainty is especially evident in the job market. At the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, millions are still out of work and those still employed consider themselves fortunate. 

To look at COVID-19’s effects on workers, Indeed surveyed 2,000 currently employed US adults ages 18-65 in December 2020. We compared respondents’ feelings about job switching and job loss now with their responses before the pandemic. We were particularly interested in how these attitudes differed along gender lines. The pandemic has made both men and women less comfortable with job switching, but the impact has been more pronounced on women. At the same time, both men and women worry more about job loss, but women’s concerns jumped three times more than men’s. 

Pandemic drives up job loss fears

Bar graph titled “Worry about job loss surges.” With a verticle axis ranging from -20% to 60%, Indeed compared the percent change in comfort with a job or career switch and worry about losing a job from pre-COVID with bars representing men and women. 55.9% more women were worried about losing their job compared with 17.5% more men.

Women already felt less at ease than men switching jobs before the pandemic. Only 68% of them reported they felt comfortable switching jobs or careers compared with 78% of men. The gap has now widened to 58% and 71%, declines of 14.2% for women and 8.7% for men. 

It’s not surprising worries about job loss have spiked, but the numbers are striking: up 17.5% for men and a staggering 55.9% for women. As a result, more women than men are now worried their jobs could disappear — 64% compared with 61%. Before the pandemic, more men than women were concerned, 52% versus 41%.

Many factors may explain why the crisis has widened gender gaps. One important reason may be that the sectors that disproportionately employ women, like leisure and hospitality, have suffered some of the worst damage from coronavirus. Thus, those employed in the hospitality/food service sector were significantly more likely than workers in other sectors to go from “not worried” about job loss before COVID-19 to “worried”. 

Bar graph titled “Women less comfortable than men switching jobs in near future.” With a verticle axis ranging from 0% to 100%, Indeed compared the percent of survey respondents who feel comfortable with a job or career change in the next 12 months with bars representing men and women. 46.2% of men felt comfortable compared with 38.3% of women.

Neither a majority of men or women viewed the next 12 months as right for switching jobs, but the share of men who said that timeframe was good was substantially larger. Some 46.2% of men said they were comfortable making a job or career change in the next 12 months compared with 38.3% of women.

This gender variance wasn’t broadly related to differences in industry employment of men and women. However, tenure at current employer was a significant factor. Respondents with longer time on the job were less likely to feel comfortable switching jobs or careers in the next 12 months. Workers who are generally content and have worked a long time at their jobs may be inclined to wait for a strong labor market before switching. They may also fear being “first in, first out” with a new employer. 

Job loss concerns higher for women

Bar graph titled “Worry about job loss up sharply for women across age cohorts.” With a verticle axis ranging from 0% to 90%, Indeed compared the percent change in worry about job loss from pre-COVID across 18 to 29-year-olds, 30 to 41-year-olds, 42 to 53-year-olds, and 54 to 65-year-olds with bars representing men and women. 81.5% more 54 to 65-year-old women were worried about job loss.

Women’s worries about job loss have skyrocketed during the pandemic and intensify as they age. In the survey, women’s job loss fears rose more than men’s in every age group. In the 42-53 bracket, women’s worries increased nearly five times more than men’s. The tendency for worry to rise with age probably stems from older women’s anxiety about “rocking the boat” on the job, an unfortunate effect of ageism in the workplace.

The fact that women are more likely to worry about losing a job could exacerbate labor market gender disparities. These anxieties may make women less likely than men to ask for pay raises or promotions. And they may prompt women to stay in jobs they wish to leave.

A post-COVID world of work

Previous Hiring Lab research has found that workers are more comfortable asking for flexibility on location, schedule, and hours now than before the pandemic. Even after the pandemic ends though, workers may still want alternatives to the pre-COVID work location norm. 

Bar graph titled “Workers prefer alternatives to pre-COVID work location.” With a verticle axis ranging from 0% to 100%, Indeed compared the percent of respondents that prefer pandemic working location or a mix of locations once the pandemic is over with bars representing men and women. 66.1% of women surveyed prefer alternatives to pre-COVID work location compared with 58.6% of men.

Most men and women surveyed responded that they wanted to work either from their pandemic work location or a mix of their pre-pandemic and pandemic locations. Just 41% of men and 32% of women said they preferred to fully return to their pre-pandemic work location when the crisis is over.

Job search trends also offer evidence that workers increasingly want remote options. In February 2020, 1.6% of job seeker search terms referred to remote work. That more than doubled to 3.7% in February 2021. As the economy recovers, location flexibility will be high on workers’ radar and employers will have to take note.

Conclusion

The havoc wreaked by coronavirus has made workers less comfortable switching jobs or careers. It has also intensified worker worries about job loss, especially for older workers and women. 

In addition, the pandemic has backed workers into a corner. Job switching may feel risky, but workers are also less at ease asking their current employer for a raise or promotion. These effects have been more severe for women, which could stall or even reverse years of progress toward labor market equality. Women have taken tremendous strides in the workplace in recent decades, and that’s been a tremendous benefit to the economy and to society. It’s vital to restore that lost momentum toward gender equality.

Methodology

Indeed’s survey applied weights to match respondent distributions across age, educational attainment, race/ethnicity, sex, and martial status with the 2020 Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

Regressions were weighted and run with robust standard errors. Statistical significance was determined at the 0.05 level. Control variables in the regressions included industry indicators, a binary variable whether the respondent was the only adult in the household, gender of respondent’s direct supervisor, gender of the majority of respondent’s colleagues, tenure at current employer, whether respondent is working part-time or full-time, a binary variable on marital status, and annual household income. The industry indicators covered 13 sectors. Respondents selected which best described their industry. Annual household income was broken into five buckets: 0 to $49,999, $50,000 to $74,999, $75,000 to $99,999, $100,000+, and did not disclose.

Respondents were asked their comfort level before the pandemic and now with switching jobs or careers, their level of worry about job loss and their post-pandemic work location preference. Respondents could select “very comfortable,” “somewhat comfortable,” or “not at all comfortable.” “Very comfortable” and “somewhat comfortable” were combined to “comfortable.” On job loss, respondents could select “very worried,” “somewhat worried,” or “not at all worked.” “Very worried” and “somewhat worried” were combined to “worried.”  

Respondents were also asked their work location preference after the pandemic. Options were “I prefer to return to my pre-pandemic work location(s),” “I prefer to keep my pandemic working location(s),” and “I prefer a mix of the two.”

For future expectations, respondents were asked when they would feel more comfortable making a total job or career switch. Respondents’ answers were sorted into “sometime in the next 12 months” versus “more than 12 months from now,” or “I don’t know.’’