Close to half of women are feeling more anxious, depressed, isolated, overworked or ill because of increased unpaid care work caused by the pandemic – Oxfam survey

Published: 18th June 2020
Woman caring for her family

Forty-three percent of women surveyed across five countries reported feeling more anxious, depressed, isolated, overworked, or ill because they are having to shoulder even more unpaid care work as a result of the coronavirus crisis, said Oxfam today. 

The polling shows that while men have also taken on more care work during the pandemic, the care workload continues to fall disproportionately on women – particularly women from ethnic and racial minorities, those living in poverty and in communities without access to basic infrastructure and services. Oxfam is challenging men to do more ahead of Father’s Day which is being celebrated on Sunday in the survey countries.  

A total of 6,385 women and men were surveyed several weeks into a pandemic that  has made millions sick and led to the closure of schools, nurseries, and support services. Three national polls were conducted in the US, UK, and Canada, together with two  surveys in poor urban communities in the Philippines and informal settlements in Kenya. The results showed: 

Over half of the women surveyed reported spending more hours on tasks such as cooking, washing, cleaning, and caring for children and family members since the pandemic began.  

Over half of the men surveyed also said their unpaid care workload had increased but the polling revealed that men and women have very different views of how fairly care work is shared. For example, in the US, two-thirds (66%) of men report that they are cooking and cleaning as much as or more than women are, but only one-third (35%) of women agree. Before the pandemic women were already doing 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day, three times more than men.  

Single mothers, women living in poverty, and ethnic and racial minorities reported the largest increase in unpaid care work.  

In urban poor and marginalised communities in the Philippines, single mothers and those living in poverty reported spending over five hours more a day on unpaid care work during the pandemic. In the US, an average of 75 percent of Black or African American, Asian, Hispanic or Latino/a respondents reported increases in their daily care workloads, compared to 57 percent of White respondents.  

43 percent of the 3,558 women surveyed reported suffering more anxiety, depression, lack of rest and sleep and physical illnesses because of increased unpaid care work caused by the pandemic. 

26 percent of women surveyed in Nairobi’s informal settlements said they have been physically unwell, been unable to get enough rest, or were feeling stressed and anxious because of increased care responsibilities. In Britain, 33 percent of women reported higher levels of stress and anxiety due to increased care workload– rising to 43 percent for female essential workers. 

Women living in poverty and ethnic and racial minorities were more likely to suffer economically because of increased unpaid care responsibilities.  

42% percent of women surveyed in Nairobi’s informal settlements said they were unable to do their usual paid work because of increased care commitments. In Canada, Aboriginal respondents were three times as likely as White respondents to say that they have had to give up looking for paid work as a result of increased care responsibilities.  

 Mar Moreno, Oxfam’s Gender Justice Director said: 

“The reality is the pandemic is making existing inequalities much worse. If you are a woman – and especially if you are living in poverty, a single mother, or from an ethnic or racial minority – you are more likely to be spending many more hours cooking, cleaning, shopping and caring for your family at the expense of your own health and wellbeing.”  

Women are responsible for a disproportionate amount of care work in every country across the globe because of a lack of investment in public services, a labour market that ignores people’s care needs, and harmful stereotypes that consider care work to be women’s work and less skilled or valuable than paid work.  

Women living in poverty and those from marginalised communities spend more time on care work because they have less access to labour saving devices, public services such as healthcare, or infrastructure such as water or electricity. 

In the US and Canada, families and women from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds contend with socio-economic inequalities linked to structural racism, that can make it more difficult to access childcare, health and support services. In the US, Asian, Hispanic or Latino/a, Black or African American respondents were also more likely to report that they live with elderly or unwell people requiring regular care or assistance. 

“The coronavirus has highlighted the tremendous importance of care work for healthy individuals, societies and economies. This must not be forgotten as we rebuild after the pandemic,” added Moreno.  

“Women and men must work together to challenge the norms and stereotypes that prevent care work being shared equally.  Governments also have a clear role to play in building more equal feminist economies that support men and women care givers through paid sick, family and medical leave from work, and investment in public services. This will have a massive impact on our individual and collective wellbeing,” said Moreno. 

Notes to editors

  • Data collected here is based on surveys conducted in representative populations in US, UK, and Canada. For the US they are only representative for likely voters. In the Philippines, the focus was on urban and poor communities and in Kenya, polling was done in informal settlements in Nairobi.
  • A total of 3558 women and 2827 men were polled across the five  countries.
  • A summary of polling data for all 5 countries and information on the methodology used in each poll are available for download.
  • In the US, polling was conducted in partnership with Promundo, in the UK in partnership with YouGov, and in the Philippines as part of a 21 inter-agency initiative of International Non-Governmental Organisations and Civil Society Organisations, led by  Oxfam Philippines, UNFPA, CARE, PLAN International, UNHCR, UNICEF and UN Women and endorsed by the Commission on Human Rights and BARMM Ministry of Social Work & Development. 
  • The statistic relating to  33 percent of women feeling stressed and anxious statistic in Great Britain is from YouGov Plc. Additional analysis was carried out by Oxfam. Total sample size was 1,662 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 1st - 2nd June 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
  • This research is part of Oxfam’s We Care initiative to make care work more visible and address it as a factor influencing gender equality. The Women’s Economic Empowerment and Care (WE-Care) programme has been working since 2013 to reignite progress on gender equality by addressing heavy and unequal unpaid care and domestic work (UCDW). By recognizing, reducing, and redistributing UCDW, WE-Care promotes a just and inclusive society where women and girls have more choice at every stage of their lives; more opportunities to take part in economic, social, and political activities; and where carer’s voices are heard in decision making about policies and budgets at all levels—supporting women and girls to reach their full potential. WE-Care currently funds projects in six countries across South-East Asia and Africa, in partnership with national women’s rights organizations, men’s groups, youth groups, civil society and the private sector. The programme has been supported by Unilever and its laundry brand Surf, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and a number of other donors. WE-Care methodologies and policies have been used in Oxfam’s development and humanitarian programmes in over 25 countries.
  • The #HowICare Campaign, that is being launched on June 18, 2020, is led by Promundo and Oxfam as an international project of MenCare: A Global Fatherhood Campaign active in more than 55 countries. The aim is to challenge and inspire men to bridge the gap in care work. Oxfam and Promundo are also releasing a paper on trends in care work in the US, themes from the paper will be highlighted in the campaign alongside stories about how men and women are caring for each other during this challenging time.  

Contact information

Michelle D’cruz in Nairobi (Kenya) | +65 8361 8854 | 

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