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: ‘I had to give up my career, in a sense’: With a potential recession looming and high inflation, many women are financially vulnerable

The pandemic unleashed a “she-cession” where the financial fallout from lockdowns, remote schooling and fewer childcare options came down hard on women.

Now, as recession worries mount and inflation rates reach a 41-year-high, a new study suggests women are particularly vulnerable to the economy’s headwinds.

Women were less likely than men to pay all of their bills on time, and less likely to report having manageable debts or rainy day savings tucked away, according to a survey from the Financial Health Network, a nonprofit organization. It carried out the research with funding from the Principal Foundation, a foundation linked to the insurance and financial services company Principal.

While nearly three in 10 women (28%) said they were worse off than before the pandemic, 23% of men felt they were in worse financial shape, researchers said, after combing through the responses of roughly 1,000 men and 2,000 women.

The divides become starker when breaking along demographic lines. For example, 54% of Black and Latina women said they were “just getting by” or “finding it difficult to get by,” compared to 39% of white women who felt the same way.

The imbalance showed up in many places, including the career trajectories of men and women, according to the survey released Thursday.

The disparity was often related to parenting. Overall, seven in 10 women with children under age 18 said they had made some sort of career change to accommodate parenting obligations, compared to 55% of men who said they did. Mothers were more likely to quit their job, reduce their hours, opt for paid parental leave or unpaid leave, or take a less demanding job, the survey also showed.

One reason for the outcome was limited child care options as the pandemic has curtailed child care availability and capacity, the researchers said.

“It was hard to find somebody to take care of the kids,” one survey participant said. “That’s why I made a (career) switch, because I needed the free time because my husband has crazy hours, I had crazy hours, one of us had to be a little bit more flexible where we could be home. I had to get out of the engineering field, which I paid all them student loans for — I would’ve never done that. I had to give up my career, in a sense.”

The economic divides between men and women existed long before the pandemic. That starts with the gap in pay between men and women.

Data shows it’s narrowed over time. Women were earning 62 cents for every dollar a man made in 1979, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year, it was up to 83 cents on the dollar.

But women’s earnings have hovered around 80 cents of men’s for more than a decade, the data shows. The Financial Health Network survey says economic parity in the 21st century has slowed and in some cases, “stalled entirely.” Wages are one example, researchers said.

The study comes a day after June inflation data showed the cost of living rising by 9.1% year-over-year. The pain of rising prices can be especially sharp for women, experts have said. For one thing, with women tending to do more of a household’s grocery shopping, they repeatedly get close-up looks at steepening costs.

The Financial Health Network survey hits on that struggle, with one participant saying, “It’s like no matter what, prices are going up and the bills are piling up and you’re like, ‘I haven’t even made any changes, but yet I’m still at square one.’”

The survey also follows another review of the divides between men and women, this time at a global scale.

It will take 132 years for women across the world to achieve economic, educational, health and political parity with men, according to an annual report from the World Economic Forum. That’s actually “a slight four-year improvement compared to the 2021 estimate,” authors wrote — but it doesn’t make up for the learning losses and other setbacks women and girls experienced in 2020 and 2021.

Ahead of the pandemic, the global gender gap would have closed within 100 years, the researchers wrote.

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