Many people, especially those employed in the sectors most affected by the lockdown, experienced a reduction of the hours of work or unemployment as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
To investigate the impact of lockdown measures on Italian families, a group of researchers of the Department of Sociology and Social Research of the University of Trento conducted a study based on Istat data, to understand who was most affected by the pandemic.
Agnese Vitali, professor of demography at the University of Trento, explains: "Unlike what has been observed in other countries such as the United States, female employment has not decreased disproportionately to male employment in Italy. Istat data show that the decline in employment among women was only slightly higher than that observed for men, and that it is almost entirely due to the fact that women work more often under fixed-term contracts. Permanent workers, who for the most part are men, were better protected by the blocking of layoffs and furlough schemes".
The researchers decided to analyze the situation from a couple perspective, to understand how the work patterns and income of mothers and fathers with dependent children (under-16) have changed. "We divided the couples according to the hours actually worked by the two partners in the reference week, distinguishing between those in which both partners work a similar number of hours, those in which the man works the most, or only he does, those in which the woman works the most, or just her, and those in which none of them works. The parameter chosen by the researchers is the number of hours worked and not the employment status because, during the pandemic, being employed but on a furlough scheme means a lower income than usual. We then compared the 2020 data with data from 2019, in the different quarters".
The results show that the percentage of couples with children under-16 in which none of the parents worked any hours in the reference week (for example because they were both on a furlough scheme) increased dramatically in the first, second and last quarter of 2020 compared to 2019, especially among the least educated. But the analysis also revealed an unexpected result. "In the months of the first lockdown, there was an increase in the number of couples in which only the woman worked", explains Vitali. The result is unexpected because in Italy, the European country with the lowest female employment, school closures could have force mothers to leave their jobs to look after their children at home.
"These data suggest that women's employment has helped protect families from earnings losses", concludes the researcher. "Something very similar happened during the 2008 recession. These results also give us hope for the future: the shock induced by the pandemic could represent an opportunity to improve gender equality in Italy starting with public policies and corporate strategies aimed at increasing women employment".
About the article
The study, entitled "Re-traditionalisation? Work patterns of families with children during the pandemic in Italy", was authored by Elisa Brini (first author, research fellow at UniTrento at the time of the research, and now a researcher at the University of Oslo). The other authors are Professor Agnese Vitali (creator of the project), student Mariya Lenko, and Professor Stefani Scherer of the Department of Sociology and Social Research of UniTrento.
The study was published on 14 October 2021 in the journal "Demographic Research" and is available in open access at: https://www.demographic-research.org/volumes/vol45/31/