COVID-19’s Gender Impact

Logan Sweeney

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2022


As March starts and we enter Women’s History Month, Time Magazine, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNBC, The Washington Post, and more wrote articles on the unique and disproportionate effects that COVID-19 has had on women. However, by focusing exclusively on the effect of COVID-19 on women, we ignore the impacts faced by gender non-binary people. This approach leaves many people to continue to be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, as economic impacts cannot be addressed and answered, if they are not first acknowledged.

The United States’ current systems and its response to COVID-19 has failed to serve many people, in fact, the pandemic has amplified existing economic and social inequalities. If we are to resolve these inequalities, instead of focusing on the disproportionate effects experienced by cis-gender women, the focus should shift towards marginalized people, such as, cis and transgender women, and non-binary individuals. This article takes a limited approach due to its length, and it focuses on the effects COVID-19 has had on women, and the transgender and non-binary community, where the United States needs to acknowledge the economic inequalities these people face and change the current systems.

The economic effect of COVID-19

The American Association of University Women reported that the gender pay gap is the result of many factors, including race, ethnicity, disability, access to education, and age, where on average, women working full-time in the United States are paid 82 cents to every dollar earned by men. Additionally, women consumers are confronted with The Pink Tax, an additional amount of money put on products that are marketed to women consumers. Generally, women pay eight percent (8%) more for adult clothing, thirteen percent (13%) more for personal care products, and eight percent (8%) more for home health care products. Women earn less but are charged more for the products that are marketed to them. This disparity was a problem before the pandemic; however, the pandemic has caused disproportionate economic effects.

In January 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that roughly 275,000 women left the workforce, while only 71,000 men left. Examining the effects of the pandemic, the National Women’s Law Center found that more than 2.3 million women have left the workforce since February 2020, while only 1.8 million men have left the workforce. Many of these women left the workforce either because they were laid off or they chose to leave to care for children. A recent study by the United Nations (“UN”) found that women work three (3) times as many hours as men in areas of unpaid care and domestic work. Additionally, the UN acknowledged that the amount of time women spent doing unpaid care and domestic work in their own household has increased during the pandemic, resulting in women experiencing limited access to paid work. Between the inability to access paid work, the inequitable pay for the same job, and the additional “Pink Tax” applied to products, the United States is widening the gap in economic inequality.

Effect particularly on transgender community and non-binary community

COVID-19 greatly impacted the transgender community as well. In its most simplified form being transgender means that a person’s gender identity is different from the gender they were assigned at birth. In this article, there is a stylistic separation between women and the transgender community, even though transgender women are part of the women community. This separation is because the majority of historical data on women’s economic impacts and outcomes such as the gender pay gap stated above in which women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns, only considers the inequality faced by cis-gender women. Without this separation, an estimated 1.4 million adults in the United States who identify as transgender are neglected in these figures.

A study found that transgender women’s salaries fell by nearly one-third after their transition, whereas transgender men’s salaries increased by roughly ten percent (10%). Research continues to show that transgender and nonbinary people face structural barriers, biases, and discrimination at work, where only 22 states explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. As a result of these barriers and discrimination, the 2015 US Transgender Survey found that only 35% of transgender respondents had a full-time job, and 15% of transgender respondents were unemployed, a number that is three (3) times higher than the national average. Furthermore, the National LGBTQ Task Force found that transgender people were four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000 a year.

Non-binary people are absent from the above research because there is no data for the earnings of non-binary people. That is in itself a problem. To be able to address and answer a problem, we need to first acknowledge it, where we presently do not have any data to acknowledge the employment gap of non-binary people. For both the transgender community and the non-binary community, the economic disparities were clearly a problem before the pandemic; however, the pandemic has exacerbated the economic effects.

Since the start of the pandemic, the economic effect on transgender and non-binary households has been disproportionate. The Movement Advancement Project found that LGBTQ+ households compared to non-LGBTQ+ households experienced more serious financial problems, including job loss or disruptions, and serious problems with Internet connection during the pandemic. Further, a report by the Human Rights Campaign found that during the pandemic, the hours worked by LBGTQ+ respondents, specifically respondents of color, were disproportionately reduced; where 31% of black LGBTQ+ respondents had their hours reduced, compared to 23% of black respondents, compared to 28% of non-black LBGTQ+, and compared to 22% of the general population. Transgender and non-binary people do not have the same access to work, are not paid equitably for the work they do, and are being discriminated against at work, for this population, United States systems have enabled increasing economic inequality.

What can we do?

Clearly, the economic inequalities faced by women, and transgender and non-binary people are widely felt and devastating. The United States’ system has failed to serve these communities. Some steps that the United States could federally mandate to reduce these inequalities include strong social programs such as, mandating paid time off, reducing tuition at universities, expanding Medicare for all, raising minimum wage, expanding affordable childcare and early childhood services, and requiring businesses to share salary information and pay transparency. Economists project that all of these practices would decrease the gender wage inequalities that we see in the United States.