The gender gap in the COVID-19 consumption response


According to Alon et al. 2021, Women’s economic prospects in the developed world are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The three major reasons for this include the fact that the initial financial consequences of the pandemic were concentrated on sectors traditionally dominated by women; hence, women were more inclined than men to lose their jobs (ILO 2020, Albanesi and Kim 2021, Adams-Prassl et al. 2020).

The second reason would be the fact that estimates from medical research imply that 8–35% of the infected will suffer from long Covid, with shorter rates expected for those that have been vaccinated. Studies also indicate that one of the largest risk factors for long Covid is gender, with women being more likely to get hurt as a result of its consequences (Augustin et al. 2021, Sudre et al. 2021, Taquet et al. 2021).

The final reason would be that women in normal times always shoulder the majority of household caring work, and ongoing crisis-related changes have inclined to increase these caring burdens since March 2020 (Alon et al. 2020, Del Boca et al. 2020, Ma et al. 2020).

Economists have assessed the inequality between consumption by men and women by focusing on income, wages, and wealth (Piketty and Saez 2006). In line with this, economic study on the effect of COVID-19 on gender equality has focused mainly on the gendered effects on jobs and unpaid work during the pandemic’s early phases (Dang and Nguyen 2021, Adams-Prassl et al. 2020, Hupkau and Petrongolo 2020a and b, Queisser et al. 2020).

Nonetheless, when evaluating relative economic well-being across families, practical evidence indicates that focusing on consumption could be the most insightful strategy (Meyer and Sullivan 2011 and 2012, Attanasio and Pistaferri 2016). Moreover, Krueger and Perri (2006) and Blundell and Preston (1998) show that the dispersion of consumption expenses and not income is the crucial measure of imbalance in a household’s wellbeing.

Another theory that can explain the remaining gap is that the surprising constraints on the availability of goods and services during lockdown may have resulted in a reassessment of ‘subjective’ consumer inclinations. This reassessment of subjective preferences might vary between women and men, which could lead to varying consumption patterns.

Literature on psychology, biology, neurosciences, management, and consumer research has documented how personal experiences can influence behaviour, including preferences. For instance, Ross et al. (2020) discovered that a loss of time, space, or money would influence not only immediate household consumption choices but also modifications in underlying consumer preferences.

Coping with economic contractions would help consumers prioritise what matters to them resulting in a refinement of preferences. In economics, another new literature is arising and building indication that personal experiences of large macroeconomic shocks can forever change expectations, preferences, and behaviour (e.g. Cotofan et al. 2021, Hodbod et al. 2021, Kuchler and Zafar 2019, Malmendier and Nagel 2016, Giuliano and Spilimbergo 2014, Malmendier and Nagel 2011).

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In conclusion, non-durable consumption has decreased much more for women than for men. The reduction in consumption for women was driven mainly by perceived affordability difficulties, while for men the consumption drop was driven more by ‘subjective’ consumer preference shifts.

As a result of the lockdown experience. Men chose in an empowered way to consume less.

These results contribute to the emerging evidence that the pandemic has increased gender inequality.

The observed patterns from a policy perspective suggest that in the aftermath of social distancing related to economic disruption, fiscal authorities could have a chance to ‘kill two birds with one stone by supporting financially struggling women.

Compared to men, the reduced SDS consumption among women is a result of perceived affordability constraints rather than durable changes in consumer preferences or precautionary saving intentions. Hence, when affordability limitations are loosened, demand from women will swiftly return.

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