Gender and COVID-19 Research

Gender and COVID-19 Research

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020, scholars, journalists, and the public expressed concern that unprecedented school and daycare closures would undo decades of women’s progress at work and at home. Others envisioned a silver lining: with domestic labor more visible than ever to men, they might equalize their share of childcare and housework, in effect, “un-stalling” the gender revolution. To evaluate these claims, I began a collaboration with Leah Ruppanner (University of Melbourne), William Scarborough (University of North Texas), and Liana Christin Landivar (Women’s Bureau, U.S. Dept. of Labor) using publicly available survey data and a new, national, longitudinal, public database on elementary school operating status (ESOS) we constructed, described below. This research aims to offer timely, nuanced insights into key mechanisms driving disparities of gender, race, and class for parents in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parents’ Employment

In two articles published in Gender, Work, and Organization (2021) and Socius (2020), we examine panel data from the U.S. Current Population Survey for February-April 2020 and find that mothers of school-aged children were particularly vulnerable to work hour reductions, labor force exits, and unemployment.

Collins, Caitlyn+, Liana Christin Landivar+, Leah Ruppanner+, and William Scarborough+. 2021. “COVID-19 and the Gender Gap in Work Hours.” Gender, Work, and Organization 28:101-112. (+equal authorship).

PressABC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Forbes, Good Morning America,, New York Times, NPR’s Marketplace, Romper, Salon, Southern California Public Radio (KPCC), Vogue, Vox, Washington Post, Yahoo

Landivar, Liana Christin, Leah Ruppanner, William Scarborough, and Caitlyn Collins. 2020. “Early Signs Indicate COVID-19 is Exacerbating Gender Inequality in the Labor Force.” Socius

Press: Associated Press, Science Magazine, Washington Post

Childcare and Family Poverty

A third article (Family Relations, 2021), pivots to childcare and family poverty. Using American Community Survey data (2006-2016) and state-level data on Head Start availability, we found that greater access to Head Start prevented many families from falling into poverty and helped others exit poverty during the Great Recession. We suggest that increased federal Head Start funding is needed to support families in this recession.

Scarborough, William, Caitlyn Collins, Leah Ruppanner, and Liana Christin Landivar. 2021. “Head Start and Families’ Recovery from Economic Recession: Policy Recommendations for COVID-19.” Family Relations 70(1):26-42.

Parents’ Time Use and Health Outcomes in Australia and the U.S.

A fourth paper, invited at Men and Masculinities (2021), examines how gendered trends in time use and economic precarity manifest in disparate health outcomes for mothers and fathers in Australia and the U.S. in the pandemic.

Ruppanner, Leah, Xiao Tan*, William Scarborough, Liana Christin Landivar, and Caitlyn Collins. 2021. “Shifting Inequalities? Parents’ Sleep, Anxiety, and Calm during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Australia and the United States.” Men and Masculinities. Online first. (*student co-author).

Elementary School Reopenings and Parents’ Employment

Because public schools constitute the country’s largest childcare infrastructure, we extend our work on the pandemic’s impact by constructing the Elementary School Operating Status database (ESOS)—the first national, longitudinal, public database of district reopenings for elementary schools in fall and spring of the 2020-2021 academic year. Data in ESOS reflect school districts’ primary operating status (in person, hybrid, or remote) as of September 20-30, 2020 (wave 1) and April 20-30, 2021 (wave 2). These data are available for 9,195 elementary school districts, covering all but the smallest school districts (i.e., those with fewer than 500 students), in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico and include about 24 million students, or 98% of all elementary students. A CSV file with all data, technical documentation, and a short report are available via the Open Science Framework. This project is supported by the Russell Sage Foundation.

Landivar, Liana C, Leah Ruppanner, William Scarborough, Caitlyn Collins, Jake Sower, Lloyd Rouse, Mary Ntalianis, et al. 2022. “Elementary School Operating Status.” OSF. January 13.

In an invited paper for a special issue of Gender & Society (2021), we link the data collected so far to the Current Population Survey and find that, across states, maternal labor force rates fell more than for fathers, and much more so in states where schools primarily offered remote instruction.

Collins, Caitlyn+, Leah Ruppanner+, Liana Christin Landivar+, and William Scarborough+. 2021. “The Gendered Consequences of a Weak Infrastructure of Care: School Reopening Plans and Parents’ Employment During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Gender & Society 35(2):180-193. (+equal authorship).

Press: Bloomberg, New York Times, St. Louis Public Radio

An article in Demography (2021) introduces the ESOS database and offers two analytical examples of its utility. We show that school districts with greater representation of Black and Hispanic students were less likely to offer in-person instruction than were districts with greater representation of White students. These racial disparities remained after accounting for geographic locale and COVID-19 prevalence. We also show that the number of in-person elementary school instruction days was associated with mothers’ labor force participation relative to fathers and to women without children—that is, the fewer days of instruction, the less likely that mothers were employed.

Landivar, Liana Christin, Leah Ruppanner, Lloyd Rouse*, William Scarborough, and Caitlyn Collins. 2021. “Research Note: School Reopenings During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Implications for Gender and Racial Equity.” Demography(*student coauthor; online first).

Cross-National Labor and Family Policies During COVID-19

Another article in American Behavioral Scientist (2021) with PhD student Nino Bariola (UT-Austin) examines the policies implemented to reduce the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on gender and labor inequalities in Denmark, Germany, and the United States. We find differences in the policy solutions provided, but also in the “cultural infrastructures” that allow policies to work as intended, or not. These include gendered beliefs about caregiving; an ethos of collective solidarity versus personal responsibility; and divergent cultural discourses of trust and distrust in government authorities across the three countries.

Bariola, Nino* and Caitlyn Collins. 2021. “The Gendered Politics of Pandemic Relief: Labor and Family Policies in Denmark, Germany, and the United States During COVID-19.” American Behavioral Scientist. Online first. (*student co-author).

Press: Forbes, The Globe and Mail

Scientific Productivity in the Pandemic

I published an invited editorial in Science (2020) exploring why women scientists might be publishing less than men in the pandemic.

Collins, Caitlyn. 2020. “Productivity in a Pandemic.” Science 369(6504):603.

PressThe Atlantic, New York Times

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