Lockdown ‘hit female academics’ productivity and emotional state’

Survey from Spain suggests that as schools closed, women were less able to catch up on work and dramatically dropped hours spent on article writing and submitting

October 17, 2020
mother with child in front of a laptop computer
Source: iStock

Female academics suffered extra anxiety and stress, felt more overwhelmed and lost more productivity compared to their male colleagues during the coronavirus lockdown this spring, a new survey has found.

The findings from Spain − where, in some of the toughest restrictions in Europe, even children were banned from leaving the house at one point – are the latest evidence that women have been hit particularly hard by lockdowns, as school closures piled extra work onto parents.

“The headline is that female academics really had a much tougher time than their male colleagues,” said María Bustelo, associate professor of political science and public administration at the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) and one of those who carried out the research. “They really suffered much more.”

The survey of nearly 1,700 academics at UCM found that women reported feeling a range of negative emotions during lockdown − such as sadness, preoccupation and a loss of control − to a greater degree than men. They also said it had been more difficult to work without interruptions.

Female academics reported spending more time per week than men on childcare, cleaning, cooking, home schooling and taking care of the elderly. On childcare alone, they spent almost four hours more per week than their male counterparts.

In contrast, during lockdown, men reported enjoying more time than women for leisure, time to themselves, sport and exercise, and housework outside the home.

There is an important caveat, Professor Bustelo stressed: the survey, conducted after lockdown eased a little on 21 June, is retrospective. “This perceived time use is not objective,” she cautioned.

Still, when people report spending a lot of time on an activity, this often means it was strenuous, she said – suggesting that women had indeed been forced to put in more effort than men in both their personal and professional lives, even if the exact hours spent may be hard to recall precisely.

The lockdown also appears to have set back female academics’ research. After the pandemic hit, the time women spent writing and publishing papers dropped off a cliff, shrinking from 6.2 hours a week to less than two. Men, on the other hand, managed to squeeze in an extra hour a week on this type of work during lockdown.

This seems to have affected women’s academic output. In terms of the number of articles sent to journals, the gender gap grew during lockdown – although productivity across the board was dramatically up as academics suddenly found themselves without access to labs.

Lockdown “aggravated” productivity differences between men and women, said Professor Bustelo. Forty-one per cent of women said that lockdown had not allowed them to catch up on delayed work; for men, the figure was lower, at 31 per cent.

Professor Bustelo’s hope is that the survey informs a policy response to the pandemic that rectifies the hit to female careers caused by the lockdown. There is still no sign of this in Spain, she said.

But the pandemic only exacerbated problems – inequalities of domestic labour, for example – that existed anyway, she pointed out. “This is not only about confinement, but what the confinement has revealed,” she added.

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

Perhaps a link to the study so we may review the evidence as this brief summary provides only a starting point to understanding.

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