The global spread of COVID-19 has illuminated the “care crisis” that has been building for decades.
Women, through their unpaid housework, childcare and elder care, have kept families functioning. However, COVID-19 is putting a strain on women’s abilities to keep the cogs of daily life turning. We are now starting to see the impact of what happens when women are unable to do it all.
What is the care crisis?
For decades, scholars have warned that the bulk of the unpaid domestic work carried by women is unsustainable. The ageing of populations across Western nations will add to the burden even more as women care for elderly parents, spouses, friends and family. This will in turn significantly reduce the employment pool and add strain on those providing the care.
Without free childcare or flexible work, families are patching together a tenuous web of caregivers and family members to smooth before- and after-school transitions and to tend to sick children. COVID-19 exposes our care system as being held together by a thread, based on the unpaid and perpetual labour of women.
For decades, researchers have shown women are stressed, pressed and emotionally unwell from the constant struggle to manage these competing demands. The data are clear – women’s larger share of the care is making them sick.
Once COVID-19 started to spread, the world changed dramatically. Now, the invisible unpaid work started to become visible. And someone has to do it.
Worried about childcare? What our searches can teach us
To better understand how childcare during coronavirus is worrying Australian parents, we draw data from Google searches over the past 30 days from the United States and Australia. The US is further along in the coronavirus journey, so can offer some insights into how worry about the virus changes over time.
At first, Americans were more concerned about the economy. But as schools, workplaces and non-essential services start to shut down, the threat of the care crisis has emerged – the concentration of Google searches for coronavirus that include “daycare” and “elderly” intensifies. The work is coming home. Who is now going to do it?
Authors: Leah Ruppanner, Associate Professor in Sociology and Co-Director of The Policy Lab, University of Melbourne