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Pandemic’s cost to Australian women’s employment and education revealed

November 25th, 2021

Young women aged between 15 and 24 have emerged as a vulnerable cohort among the many Australian women whose working life and education have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research undertaken by Equity Economics for Australians Investing in Women (AIIW).

The research report, entitled Changing the Trajectory: Investing in Women for a Fairer Future, highlights how deeply the pandemic has affected Australian women, with women bearing the brunt of the job losses. Sixty per cent of the 281,000 jobs lost across Australia between June and September 2021 were lost by women.

The report paints a confronting picture of how vulnerable young women have been to the pandemic’s impact on jobs and education: those women aged 15-24 accounted for 58 per cent of job losses across the country between June and September this year.

On several key markers, young women have been more impacted than men: in May, 2020 there was a 28 per cent increase in the number of young women not in education or employment, compared to a 20 per cent increase in the number of young men.

The industries most vulnerable to the pandemic-related lockdowns – retail, hospitality, and the arts – have more women without a post-school qualification, and were therefore, more susceptible to job losses. As a result, young women without a post-school qualification lost the most jobs across all age and education groups, amounting to 125,000 jobs losses between February and May, 2020.

AIIW CEO Julie Reilly said: “In May 2020, young women lost 25 per cent more jobs than young men. Between June 2021 and September 2021, they lost over twice as many jobs as their male peers,’’

 “The pandemic has created significant risks to the economic futures of young women in Australia and threatens to rapidly undo the gains in gender equality that have been hard fought for over many decades,” Ms Reilly said.

In addition, women accounted for the largest fall in post-school education enrolments during the height of the pandemic. Although there was a fall in students numbers across most education levels, the most pronounced were young women studying for a Certificate III/IV, where there was a drop of 34,300.

The report’s modelling identifies that those women who may not complete that certificate qualification, will have a 10 per cent reduction in their employment prospects and a decline in full-time earnings of almost $3000 a year. The report also shows the consequence of the pandemic in delaying women’s entry or on-going participation in the workforce - because of the pull of caring responsibilities - would widen the pay gap between men and women by at least one percentage point.

The report states: “Philanthropic efforts can make a big difference in supporting the cohorts of girls and women in society who face barriers and biases that are not being fully addressed by existing government policy and supporting innovative ways to advance women’s employment and education opportunities that extend beyond conventional approaches.’’

The report makes four recommendations to ensure the pandemic doesn’t derail the future trajectory of young women’s education and employment and widen the gap in economic outcomes between men and women.

The recommendations are: Strengthening young women’s education and training pathways; Strengthening women’s transition into and sustained attachment to employment; Strengthening women’s business opportunities and; Broader initiatives to support gender equity.

“Now, more than ever, targeted interventions through government policy and philanthropic investment are needed to improve the outcomes for women and girls, build a more resilient workforce, and ensure a more prosperous future for all,’’ Ms Reilly said.

The report was funded through the support of the Bell Family Foundation.

Read the AIIW media release here: Young women’s futures at greatest risk from impact of COVID-19, new research reveals

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