The Corona pandemic and the labor market in Finland: women and men affected differently

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In this blog, we look at the Corona pandemic and the labor market in Finland. We specifically discuss some of the ways in which the economic downturn caused by the pandemic affected women’s and men’s job situations differently.

In March, we told you that the Finnish government launched a research project that studies the effects of the Corona pandemic on gender equality in Finland. We mentioned that Statistics Finland is responsible for one of the subprojects. They are tasked with examining issues related to the labor market and working conditions in Finland. 

Recently, Statistics Finland released some early results of this research project. We summarize some of their findings below. But first, let’s discuss why we are writing about genders again. 

Why continue to talk about gender segregation in the Finnish labor market?

Those of you who have been reading this blog for longer must have noticed that the gender segregation of the Finnish labor market is a topic we keep returning to. The reason for this is obvious. 

This feature of the Finnish labor market affects or is related to many other phenomena in the labor market and in the wider society. 

For example, women and men seem to be engaged in different quality jobs in Finland. It has an effect on the income levels women and men in Finland have and the salaries they make

During a pandemic like this, it also affects who are in the front lines managing it.

And we haven’t even mentioned yet how gender segregation in the labor market is associated with, for example, gender segregation in education

We feel that as it has such pervasive effects on our lives, it’s worth discussing the topic repeatedly from different angles. 

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The Corona pandemic and the labor market: women and men affected differently

Hanna Sutela, whose Statistics Finland blogs we’ve used before (eg. in this and this), published her preliminary findings on the corona pandemic and the labor market in Finland last week. 

We already knew that in contrast to normal economic downturns this time women’s employment numbers took a harder hit than men’s. 

The number of women working dropped by 24 000 in 2020 compared with the year before. Men’s employment numbers dropped by 14 000. 

Hanna Sutela notes, however, that using other measures besides just the number of people employed we get a different picture of the effects of the pandemic. 

One measure she uses is the total number of hours women and men worked. In comparison with 2019, the total number of hours men worked in 2020 dropped by 3 %. Women’s dropped by 2.6 %. 

So, although 10 000 more women than men stopped working, men’s combined working hours dropped more than women’s. 

She also notes that while the combined gross salary amount of men dropped by 0.28 % in 2020 from the year before, women’s rose by 0.25 %. This measure also would seem to suggest that women did better than the employment numbers would seem to suggest.

So, what’s going on here? 

Hanna Sutela explains that what explains these seemingly contradictory numbers is the fact that

  • women and men are employed in different industries, 
  • they have different types of employment relationships in those industries, and
  • the pandemic affected these industries differently. 

Let’s examine these points further. 

The Corona pandemic and the labor market in Finland: effects on women

Hanna Sutela tells us that in 2020 work decreased particularly in such women-dominated industries as the hospitality industry, retail, and arts and entertainment. 

(In this blog post, we give the proportion of men and women in specific industries.)

In these industries, part-time employment contracts are particularly common (31.5 – 40.9 % in 2019). These industries also don’t pay that well. 

So, although the layoffs and terminations in these industries brought down women’s overall employment numbers significantly, the combined working hours for women didn’t decrease in equal measure. 

The same can be said for the combined gross salary figures for women. 

This means in plain English that a large number of women with part-time contracts and low salaries lost their jobs. 

Now we understand why the total number of working hours for women didn’t go down as much as could be expected. We also learned that women’s salary totals didn’t go down as much as they could have. But why did they actually go up in comparison with 2019?

Hanna Sutela explains that this is because a share of women actually found better paid full-time employment during the pandemic. 

Women found well-paid full-time employment in such industries as 

  • education, 
  • public administration, 
  • communications, 
  • professional, scientific, and technical industries and
  • the manufacturing of chemicals and pharmaceutical products. 

The increased share of women working full-time in better-paying jobs among all employed women in 2020 explains why women’s hours didn’t drop as much and why the combined salary figures actually came up a bit.

Gross salaries also went slightly up in the healthcare sector which is heavily women-dominated. This increase in average income in the healthcare sector was mostly due to overtime pay and other such extras associated with the pandemic. This also contributed to the increase in women’s combined pay.

What about men then?

The Corona pandemic and the labor market in Finland: effects on men

In addition to the women-dominated industries, work decreased also in such male-dominated industries as transportation and warehousing.

In transportation and warehousing, part-time contracts are not that common (14.7 %) and the pay is generally better than in the women-dominated service jobs.

The men that lost their jobs during the pandemic were thus full-time workers with better pay. 

Men also didn’t gain employment in other, better-paying industries during the pandemic the same way women did. Men’s employment numbers rose pretty much only in the professional, scientific and technical fields. They went down in others.

Therefore, while the total number of men who lost their jobs was significantly smaller than women’s, the combined hours men worked dropped more than women’s. So did their combined earnings. 

Men’s employment numbers also dropped more in the 35-54 age bracket than women’s. This age bracket tends to have higher salaries than younger generations. This, again, contributed to the drop in men’s combined earnings. 

Developments in 2021

The latest employment figures we have for 2021 are from September. 

According to those numbers, employment is up for both men and women. 

The number of men looking for a new job came down by 37 300 from the year before. 31 300 fewer women were looking for work in September 2021 than in September 2020.

57 % of unemployed job seekers were men. 43 % were women. In comparison with the year before, the number of unemployed men decreased by 15 %. The number of unemployed women, in turn, decreased by 17 %. However, not all of this is explained by increased employment. Some of these people left the workforce rather than became employed. 

Women are also getting back to their part-time jobs. Overall, the share of workers engaged in part-time work increased from 2020. However, the share of women engaged in part-time work was nearly 25 % in September. A year before it was closer to 20 %. The share of men doing part-job work was less than 15 % in September. 

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