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The coronavirus pandemic will likely make the gender pay gap worse as the U.S. economy recovers but could ultimately improve opportunities for women, according to a paper distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

In a regular recession, the pay gap between men and women shrinks by two percentage points as men tend to get hit harder by job losses, according to the paper published this month. But in a pandemic recession, that gap increases by five percentage points, the report said.

Women are more vulnerable to the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic because they are more likely than men to work in service industries, which have been hit especially hard in recent months. With so many schools and daycares closed, many of the additional childcare responsibilities have also fallen to women. Females lose skills when they leave the workforce, either because of job loss or to care for children, which results in lower pay when they return, according to NBER.

Sending young children back to school will do the most to improve the gender wage gap, according to the report. The findings come as school districts around the country mull whether or not to start in-person classes in the fall.

Still, in the long term, the pandemic may offer some opportunities to ultimately shrink pay gaps by shifting social norms and increasing telework, the researchers said. During the pandemic, men are sharing more of the childcare work and other household responsibilities traditionally held by women, according to the report’s findings. But it may still take “many years” to make up for the skills women are losing while they are out of work, the paper said.

Story by Maeve Sheehey

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