The COVID-19 recession resulted in a steep but transitory contraction in employment, with greater job losses among women than men. As of the third quarter of 2021, the labor force ages 25 and older remains nearly 2 million below its level in the same quarter of 2019.

The pandemic is associated with an increase in some gender disparities in the labor market. Among adults 25 and older who have no education beyond high school, more women have left the labor force than men.

It is complex, but there seems to be a consensus that this change partly reflects how women are overrepresented in certain health care, food preparation, and personal service occupations that were sharply curtailed at the start of the pandemic. Although women overall are more likely than men to be able to work remotely, they are disproportionately employed in occupations that require them to work on-site and in close proximity to others.

It is less clear whether women’s parental roles and limited child care and schooling options have played a large role in forcing them to exit the labor market. The number of mothers and fathers in the labor force has declined in similar fashion over the past two years.