Women’s lost income in 2020 totalled combined wealth of 98 countries

Women’s lost income in 2020 totalled combined wealth of 98 countries

  • Citizen’s Assembly recommendations on gender equality must be a heart of Covid-recovery plans 
  • Millions more women at risk of extreme poverty in 2021 

 29 April 2021

The Covid-19 crisis cost women around the world at least $800 billion in lost income in 2020, equivalent to more than the combined GDP of 98 countries – dealing a striking blow to recent gains for women in the workforce, said Oxfam today. 

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: "Economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic is having a harsher impact on women, who are disproportionately represented in sectors offering low wages, few benefits and the least secure jobs. 

“This conservative estimate doesn’t even include wages lost by the millions of women working across the world in the informal economy —domestic workers, market vendors and garment workers— who have been sent home or whose hours and wages have been drastically cut.”

Globally, women are overrepresented in low-paid, precarious sectors, such as retail, tourism, food and textile services, that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Women also make up a majority of the world’s health and social care workforce. In the EU alone, 76 percent of healthcare workers are women —essential but often poorly paid jobs that put them at greater risk from Covid-19.

Women have also been more likely than men to drop out of the workforce or reduce their hours during the pandemic, largely due to care responsibilities. The Covid-19 crisis has shown yet again that it is the care economy, a ‘hidden engine’, that keeps the wheels of our economies, businesses and societies turning.  

Clarken went on to say: “Even before the virus struck, the responsibility for caring in Ireland was deeply gendered and severely unbalanced. Last year, Oxfam Ireland estimated that, women’s unpaid care work contributes at least €24 billion to the Irish economy every year - the equivalent of 12.3 percent of the entire annual economy.

“For women in every country on every continent, along with losing income, the demands of unpaid care work have rapidly increased. As care needs spiked during the pandemic, women —the shock absorbers of our societies— have stepped in to fill the gap, an expectation so often imposed by sexist social norms.” 

The effects of these dramatic changes will be unevenly felt for years to come. An additional 47 million women worldwide are expected to fall into extreme poverty in 2021, while the World Economic Forum predict that closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years due to negative outcomes for women in 2020.

Clarken concluded: “As we move from emergency measures to long-term recovery, our government must seize this opportunity to build a more equal, inclusive economy for everyone living in Ireland. Our Citizens Assembly has laid out what needs to be done for gender equality – offering concrete actions across politics and leadership, caregiving and childcare, domestic, sexual and gender based violence, pay and the workplace, social protection, as well reforming the constitution.

“A fair and sustainable economic recovery is one that supports women’s employment and unpaid care work, as recovery from Covid-19 is impossible without women recovering.”



Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org

Notes to editors 

  1. Despite Ireland’s work towards achieving gender equality in recent years, the gender pay gap remains an issue, and female employment rates are slightly lower than the European average – something that should be considered against the backdrop of Ireland’s relatively low level of state funding for subsidised childcare and the lack of investment in childcare infrastructure. 
  2. Childcare costs in Ireland are among the highest in the EU – young families can pay the price of a second monthly rent or mortgage for crèches, which can limit or impede a woman’s choice to return to work or pursue employment in certain fields or professions. 
  3. In addition, women in Ireland are over-represented in the low paid sector, can be working reduced hours due to care responsibilities and are also more likely to have to leave paid employment to fulfil unpaid care work of children or elderly dependents. This in turn results in reduced benefits and pension contributions – creating a pension gap - possibly extending cycles of financial insecurity or poverty into retirement age.
  • Women’s total income loss is an estimate derived from the change in the number of women working between the years 2019 and 2020, as captured in the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) indicator: Employment by sex and age -- ILO modelled estimates, Nov. 2020 (thousands) — Annual. To achieve our income loss figure, Oxfam first estimated the average income among women globally and then multiplied this figure by the number of women working in 2019 and 2020. The average income figure comes from the International Labour Organization’s indicator: Mean nominal monthly earnings of employees by sex and economic activity for the year 2019. The ILO's monthly earnings data includes fifty countries representing every region of the world. The monthly averages are multiplied by twelve to estimate an annual earnings figure. We keep women’s annual average income constant between 2019 and 2020 (2019 is the last year there is data available). The calculation is an estimate and is susceptible to data limitations. For example, using average income among women globally diminishes the extent of economic inequality among women. Further, regarding data describing employment by sex, the ILO cautions: Imputed observations are not based on national data, are subject to high uncertainty and should not be used for country comparisons or rankings. 
  • Although some governments have taken positive measures to address women’s economic and social security, including the infusion of $39 billion by the Biden administration into the childcare sector and new legislation in Argentina that offers flexible work schedules to those caring for children or the disabled, the response remains grossly insufficient. Only 11 countries have introduced shorter or flexible work arrangements for workers with care responsibilities, while 36 have strengthened family and paid sick leave for parents and caregivers.
  • Oxfam Ireland’s submission to the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Quality included recommendations on: 
  1. Gender responsive budgeting 
  2. Gender pay gap 
  3. Gender Equality in leadership and participation 
  4. Gender equality in the care economy 
  5. Gender equality in development and aid 

You can read their full submission here: https://www.oxfamireland.org/sites/default/files/Oxfam%20Ireland_CA%20Submission_Gender%20Eqaulity_March2020_Final.pdf  



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