Published: December 4, 2020

Female workers in Melbourne and those in regional areas of Australia are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 labour market downturn. These are key findings from a co-branded Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research and Life Course Centre Research Insights paper that examines the different pathways for men and women out of the downturn.

The paper, ‘The ups and downs of the COVID-19 crisis: A gender divide?’ highlights the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on women’s labour market participation. It found 39 per cent of women in Melbourne reported working reduced hours due to COVID-19, compared with a quarter of women in other metro areas. While more men than women reported reduced hours in regional Australia, women in regional area reported higher rates of unemployment due to the pandemic.

Professor Guyonne Kalb, lead author on the paper and a Life Course Centre Chief Investigator, said this loss of work was not matched by a corresponding increase in the uptake of Jobseeker or JobKeeper payments. “We need to take a closer look at the sectors where regional women are employed,” Professor Kalb said. “It might be that more women in the regions work in the hospitality sector, which has been particularly affected by the COVID-19 crisis. It has become vitally important now to consider the other opportunities that could be created specifically for women in regional areas.”

While women in metropolitan areas are expected to catch up now that lockdown restrictions have eased, the authors suggest that women in regional Australia will likely need more support given they are more likely than men to remain in unemployment due to COVID-19. They also recommend a closer look at the businesses and sectors in question to understand what more could be done to assist these women.

The Research Insights paper was based on the Melbourne Institute’s regular Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey, and drew on specific questions funded by the Life Course Centre relating to the presence of a partner, the partner’s labour force status, and the partner’s receipt of JobSeeker or JobKeeper. The authors used these questions to investigate the effects of the pandemic on women and men and consider how household composition influences these differences. Authors on the report also included Dr Jordy Meekes, a Life Course Centre Research Fellow.

The Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey tracks changes in the economic and social wellbeing of Australians. The twenty-third wave of the survey was conducted from 16-20 November. It found Australians’ satisfaction with government performance during the COVID-19 pandemic has risen to its highest level since July, with 60 per cent of Australians satisfied with the government, up from 53 per cent in early November, driven by large increases in satisfaction in New South Wales and Victoria.

The number of people reporting mental distress fell to the lowest level in months, with 15 per cent of Australians feeling distressed or anxious, down from 23 per cent in early November. Mental distress fell by 22 percentage points in South Australia. Financial stress has also fallen, from 26 per cent in early November, to 21 per cent in the latest survey.

Read the full research insights paper The Ups and Downs of the COVID-19 Crisis: A Gender Divide? here, and coverage of the paper in The Australian Financial Review here.

Interact with the results of the Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey here.