The Coronavirus Recession is a “She-cession”

“We should go ahead and call this a ‘shecession.’”

— C. Nicole Mason, president and chief executive of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research
The Coronavirus Recession is a “Shecession”
(Nik Anderson / Flickr)

The word “shecession” appeared in the The New York Times for the first time in its nearly 170 years of publishing over the weekend.

And with good reason: Of the 20.5 million jobs lost last month, women make up 55 percent of those now looking for work. Their unemployment rate is about 2 percent higher than that of men. Women of color fare the worst of all, with unemployment rates of Hispanic women at over 20 percent.

In the 2008 recession, women levied a minute advantage, as their presence in the workforce, percentage-wise, rose—causing some to refer to it as the “mancession.”

However, this time around, male-dominated industries like manufacturing and construction, which typically feel the brunt of an economic collapse, have fared well in comparison to industries like travel, leisure and hospitality—all of which were virtually halted by shelter-in-place orders across the country. Women, particularly women of color, make up much of these industries. 

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With schools across the country shuttered, women have been expected to fulfill both full-time work and full-time childcare, as women still complete significantly more household chores than their male partners. This holds true across generations and takes hours of a woman’s day.

About 75 percent of women manage their children’s health care, and women are more likely to take time off of work to care for a sick child. In dire times, the U.S. government has provided daycare centers for working mothers; they can surely do it again.

Of course, with the closure of school across the nation, add in homeschooling responsibilities, which also show a very imbalanced relationship between men and women: In a recent University of Utah study, half of couples surveyed said education was the sole responsibility of the mother. And in 73 percent of cases, mothers who do the majority of childcare are also solely responsible for educational content. 

The expectation for women to care for children home from school is exacerbated by the gender pay gap. After all, if one partner must stop working, it is financially logical for the person making less to stay home. The pressure to keep out of the office will not just come from home: Women are encouraged to take “accommodations” in accordance with the work/family paradigm, while their male colleagues will be expected to step up at the office.

When women do take these recommended “accommodations,” their pay decrease typically will not align with their new work, and men will still make a higher hourly wage. Even if women reenter the workforce, they will have lost out on pay increases and savings, and will likely be paid less than men with the same experience. 

Although women are less likely to be affected by a recession, their jobs are more often sidelined to make room for men to recover. As they are especially affected by this recession, the recovery will only exacerbate problems for working women. Men will surely be valued more in the recovery to come—meaning we must not pressure women to stay home now.

Under an administration which repeatedly fails to fight for feminism and, in fact, works against the cause, I fear what lies ahead for women in the coronavirus “shecession.”

We learned of the durability of women at work in 2008; do not force us into the mausoleum of “women’s work.”


Audrey Andrews is a Ph.D. student in anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is an archaeologist, runner and feminist. Audrey graduated from Columbia University.