Status of Women During COVID-19


The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 presented new challenges and required quick adaptations of our communities. ​Communities already facing intersectional oppression were disproportionately affected—accessing resources and care became increasingly difficult as we responded to necessary changes in healthcare, employment, and education.   ​​

Gender inequality shows up in both work and home environments. ​An increase in remote work and schooling and loss of child care ​dramatically disrupted the lives of women, especially for those working full-time, i​n frontline healthcare and/or essential care or service positions, ​or caring for children or family. ​Women assumed greater supervisory responsibility for their child(ren)​ and their child(ren)'s remote schooling, which had a significant impact on the​ employment of working women. ​Unique challenges emerged as a result of the pandemic including increases in high stress, poor mental health, gender-based violence and domestic violence, and financial instability.1

Establishing a statistical baseline of the status of women during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial to future analyses interested in observing trends or changes in the status and well-being of women as a result of the pandemic. These summary statistics would best serve as a reference point for determining the initial status of women during the beginning of the pandemic and for future interest in predicting the status of women in post-pandemic years. 

Not all of the typical indicators could be explored in this elementary analysis due to disruption in data collection and quality in 2020 (see here​ for more details). However, we have highlighted significant health and socioeconomic disparities permeating the state of Wisconsin using 2020 data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and 2016-2020 5-year average data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS).

​​Maternal and Infant Health

​The health of birthing people and their children are key in determining overall population health, since these are the people who are raising and are a part of future generations. ​​By examining maternal and infant health indicators allows us to identify population trends as well as which subpopulations in Wisconsin are experiencing challenges in accessing quality and culturally conscious care. ​

In Wisconsin, pregnancy-related infant and maternal deaths and complications disproportionately affect birthing people of color. Improving accessibility and affordability of care, ensuring continuous quality care, and challenging the ways systemic oppression influences health factors and outcomes is essential to closing perinatal inequities in our state. Using a health equity framework, the Wisconsin Women's Council published a fact sheet on perinatal health disparities in the state in 2020, which included an analysis of indicators such as low birthweight, infant mortality, and prenatal care access and affordability. 

​The Wage Gap and Occupation Segregation​​

​Despite growing concern over the gendered wage gap in the United States, income inequality persists. ​According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ​in 2020, women working full-time in Wisconsin made 86.​5% of the usual weekly earnings of their male counterparts (compared to 82.3% nationally)​.2 Though the wage gap in Wisconsin has appeared to ​have narrowed compared to previous years, it is important to keep in mind that this statistic does not account for the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the ​​labor market​. 

Significant declines in employment—especially for low-wage occupations—​​​​may partially account for the apparent improvement in wage equality. Women are more likely than men to be employed in caretaking and service roles such as educational instruction and healthcare support, which are coincidentally positions that typically see lower salaries and wages. ​Low-wage workers in such service positions were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, many of whom were furloughed or laid off as employers were unable to sustain business during quarantines and closures encouraged by the government. Since women populate the majority of low-wage positions, and were unable to work during this time, their incomes are not reflected by the 2020 wage gap statistic. That is to say, even though economic equality apparently improved in 2020 as compared to previous years, it may be that the usually accounted for low incomes of women that negatively skew the percentage were not included in the median earnings calculation because these women were unable to work altogether.​

Women workers in 2016-2020

An investigation of tables ​S2411​ (Occupation by Sex and Median Earnings in the Past 12 Months (in 2020 inflation-adjusted dollars) for the Civilian Employed Population 16 Years and Over), S2401​ (Occupation by Sex for the Civilian Employed Population 16 Years and Over), and B24092​ (Sex by Class of Worker and Median Earnings in the Past 12 Months (in 2020 inflation-adjusted dollars) for the Full-Time, Year-Round Civilian Employed Population 16 Years and Over) from the 2016-2020 ACS is helpful to establish a baseline of women's population and earnings in the labor market immediately before pandemic years. 

The figure below3 confirms statistics presented by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: in 2016-2020, more women than men were employed in caretaking or service occupations. For instance, the occupation employing the most women (258,253 workers) was Office and Administrative Support. In comparison, only 76,385 men are employed in Office and Administrative Support; however, median earnings for men in this position were about 14% higher than for women in the same position (women earned 87% of what men earned). In fact, it is notable that for every occupation, women made less than their male counterparts even when the occupation employed majority women. ​

 Number of Workers & Median Income (2016-2020)

​​It is also important to acknowledge that women in Health Diagnosin, Treating Practitioners, and Other Technical occupations only made 57% of their male counterparts in the same occuaption. This should certainly be considered when analyzing future earnings and occupation data collected during pandemic years when people in these frontline roles were subjected to additional hours, understaffing due to COVID-19 outbreaks among staff, and full/overcrowded clinics during this time. This should raise the question of whether or not female frontline healthcare workers are valued to the same degree as their male counterparts, and how this could potentially change following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Women workers in 2016-2020 by county

In general, counties that are more highly populated have median income estimates near to the average median income for the state of Wisconsin. Smaller, rural counties are more likely to have median income estimates below the state average median, though some have above average median income. This could be due to very high or very low incomes of one or more individuals that skew the median lower or higher, respectively, as a result of lower populations; however, such skewness is not of great concern because the ACS measures median, not mean, income values for each geographic region.  

The following figure shows how the gendered wage gap is consistent over occupational class—which includes employees of Local, State, and Federal Government​, Private Not-For-Profit and Private For-Profit companies, as well as Self-Employed workers—for all counties in Wisconsin. Users can select as many counties as they are interested in comparing to view median income estimates for male and female full-time, year round civilian workers aged 16 or more for each occupation class. The size of the points corresponds to the population size of the county: larger points indicate larger counties. 

Choosing an occupation class from the drop-down menu displays the ratio of female median income to male median income for the selected class and counties on the Wisconsin map. A ratio greater than 1 (more red in color) indicates that the median incomes of female workers of that selected class and county are higher than those of their male counterparts. A ratio less than 1 (more blue in color) indicates that the median incomes of male workers of that selected class and county are higher than those of their female counterparts. 


 Wisconsin Median Income Estimates by County (2016-2020)

Note that some smaller counties did not have income data to report for certain occupation classes—usually Federal Government employees—and in these cases, the counties are shaded gray. By experimenting with different combinations of counties and occupation class, it is clear that male employees are paid more than their female counterparts across occupation and geography. 

Though some counties have a higher female-to-male income ratio for those employed by State and Federal Government, it is important to keep in mind that the number of wokers employed by these sectors is small and so any high-earning woman in these vocations will skew the ratio such that it appears women are making more than men. In these cases, selecting "Total" for occupation class typically shows that men are still making more than their female counterparts. ​

1​Women's Funds of Northeast Wisconsin. (June 2021). Northeast Wisconsin Women’s Fund COVID-19 Impact on Women Study​. ​Conducted by St. Norbert College Strategic Research Institute and Neighborhood Analytics, LLC. ​

2​U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (October 2021). ​Women's Earnings in Wisconsin—2020. ​U.S. Department of Labor​.​

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