A new study found that female educators were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately and more negatively than their male counterparts.
Conducted by NYKids, a research facility housed at the University of Albany’s School of Education, the study adds another dimension to the numerous findings which revealed that COVID-19 impacted women in the workforce disproportionately.
Women dropped out of the workforce at higher rates than men during the pandemic, and the return rates are still lesser. There are more than 4,492,114 teachers employed in the United States; 74.3% of them are women, while only 25.7% are men. The country has been witnessing a shortage of teachers, and a new study lends insight into the main factor that may be driving the teacher shortages in the US, with implications for both policy and practice.US, with implications for both policy and practice.
“We designed the study to look at the factors such as stress and job satisfaction so that we might better understand how the pandemic has impacted educators and what it could mean for the children,” Kristen Wilcox, the lead author of the study, commented.
The mixed-method study gathered responses from more than 700 surveyed educators at 38 schools across New York City. Respondents in the survey included instructional staff at P-12 schools, like a teacher, assistants, and support professionals like social workers, psychologists, and counselors. The study sought to gauge whether female educators were experiencing more challenges in maintaining a work-life balance during the pandemic and if those challenges could be attributable to differences in responsibilities at home or differences in work and COVID-related stress.
While some studies have pointed to the division of domestic labor as a driving force behind women’s increased stress levels during the pandemic, the survey revealed otherwise. It found that female educators (with and without childcare responsibilities back home) were experiencing similar levels of stress throughout the pandemic. The primary drivers of dissatisfaction were stress associated with work and the pandemic itself rather than domestic responsibilities.
The key factors of the study were:
- Female educators experience increased, and higher levels of stress related to COVID-19 and work. They struggled more than their male counterparts to balance work and life.
- Those women who have childcare responsibilities experienced similar levels of stress as women without it.
- The severity of stress, including work-life balance challenges, was greater among female educators who experienced interruptions in employment, income, or social support.
Although quantitative data in the study pointed out that work-related stress is a primary driver of increased and greater negative impacts on women educators, the qualitative data, which was drawn from open-ended survey responses, suggested that both men and women struggled to meet the expectations of responsibilities at work and at home and, often, felt forced to prioritize the one over the other.
The authors of the study noted that while teaching is characterized as a “feminized” work, women remain underrepresented in the decision-making positions in American schools, which could also be a driver of work-related stress.
“Lack of decision-making authority seems interesting because there can be a connection between people feeling a lack of control and being in the dark,” Wilcox added. “And that somewhat explains why women, in particular, might be feeling stressed at work—because they either did not feel or were not empowered.”
For many teachers in the study who had childcare responsibilities, their role as teachers often conflicted with their parental duties.
The difficulties that these educators reported to be experiencing while balancing their role as parents and teachers, the researchers say, could mean a “crisis of care”. The study further notes that the number of dual-earner families who are struggling to afford childcare costs without one of the parents sacrificing their jobs is growing. Unfortunately, it is women who have historically borne the burden of childcare, and the study shows that the pandemic has exacerbated it.
The authors of the study say that the major question that the findings pose is how women educators can be better supported in school settings. They further argue that policy can be used to disrupt gender norms and the trend that perpetuates therein. Increased state and federal support for educators, like head start programs, paternal leave, and universal pre-K, can be crucial to help them mitigate the care crisis and make ends meet.
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