Covid-19 meant women worked an extra 173 hours without pay in 2020

A lot of extra work, for free.
A lot of extra work, for free.
Image: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
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The burden of extra childcare on families during the Covid-19 pandemic has been enormous.

Children around the world required a collective 615 billion extra hours of care as they were left home from school—a conservative estimate that assumed children would otherwise only be in school for five hours, according to a study published today by the Center for Global Development, an organization researching economic policies to reduce poverty. Most of this unpaid work was taken on by parents, and disproportionately by women, who provide 75% of childcare work in developing countries, and over 65% in wealthy ones.

On average, this means women between the ages of 15 and 64 around the world worked an average 173 unpaid extra hours, adding more than a month of full-time work to their schedule. For men, the estimated burden was much lower, at 59 hours.

Differences between countries

The majority of the unpaid work happened in poor countries. That is where the majority of children live, and where the discrepancy between unpaid work taken on by women and men is greatest. According to the research, women in low- and middle-income countries took on an average of 217 unpaid childcare hours.

Uganda was the country where the burden of unpaid childcare increased the most. There, women worked an extra 400 unpaid hours between January and August 2020, adding to the 3,390 hours they worked prior to the pandemic. But in Uganda the distribution of unpaid work between sexes was strikingly close to equal: In 2020, men took on 360 extra hours of childcare work, on top of the 3,040 they were putting in before.

Among the 20 large countries with the most hours of free childcare, Mali was the country where the division between the sexes was the most unequal, with women taking on 5,894 of the 6,626 total hours of unpaid childcare in 2020. Pakistan and India, which had the second and third highest increase in workload, were also the second and third most unequal in distribution.