Why women are more stressed during the Covid-19 pandemic

Posted in: Covid19, Employers, Gender equality, Research, Women

Yasin Rofcanin’s latest study investigated the differential emotional impacts of home-working during the Covid-19 pandemic on men and women. Here he explains that women find it more difficult to separate their work and family lives, due to the pressure of traditional gender roles and so experience higher levels of stress. He also outlines some solutions for resolving the issue.

COVID-19 has left huge numbers of people worldwide confined to their homes, reshaping work and family relations in unexpected ways. A striking feature of this pandemic is that men tend to suffer and die at higher proportions compared to women, the causes of which are still being investigated.

However, while more men than women have died from this virus, women have suffered more from the uncertainty and stress caused by the virus disrupting the boundaries between home and work domains (Interview by Sandberg & Thomas in Fortune, 2020). The expected gender roles and societal norms put women in a difficult situation as they try to balance work tasks and non-work responsibilities (Eagly, 2009; 2013; Liebler & Sandefur, 2002).

Women are generally expected to be more communal and relationship-oriented; they are also are expected to demonstrate more caring and nurturing behaviours toward others (Eagly, 2009). On the other hand, society shapes men to be more agentic and aggressive. Given these insights, it is understandable that women feel expected to engage more in the home responsibilities such as taking care of children and the elderly, and sustaining relationships on a one-on-one level (Liebler, C. A., & Sandefur, 2002). Research on gender role differences argues that women protect and sustain relationships at work and at home more so than men because (from a traditional gender role perspective) caregiving and relationship-keeping roles are more prominent in women than men.

Our latest findings support these basic assumptions. In order to understand the impact COVID-19 has on women, we conducted two different studies. We collected data during the early and late stages of lockdown in Spanish speaking regions of the world, mainly Spain, Chile, and Guatemala to see how the impact of home-working had developed. Striking differences emerged in terms of how COVID-19 impacted on women versus men. Women found it more difficult to transition between work and family domains and as a result, reported lower levels of sleep quality and vitality compared to men. Furthermore, they reported that their daily tasks felt intensified and pressured. A key reason explaining our results is that women depleted their limited supply of 'personal resources' by constantly juggling the tasks of home and work domains, and so struggled to cope with the increasing demands from both.

Other studies reveal similar patterns, showing that women feel more stressed, have greater sleep problems, and worry that they will not be able to take care of their families. Feeling disproportionally overwhelmed, women worry that they will have to work double shifts in order to keep their households afloat (Interview by Sandberg & Thomas in Fortune, 2020).

In the wake of this pandemic, it is time for organisations to openly discuss the emotional support they offer their employees and for couples to discuss their priorities and responsibilities on a daily basis. A possible solution may be that couples talk openly about their fears, priorities, and goals so that they find fulfilling solutions and women do not need to engage in career and care-taking related compromises (Petriglieri, 2019). Another possible step is to introduce and carry out gender supportive coaching, in which problems and issues women face in juggling work and home roles can be openly discussed and dealt with (Behson, 2005).

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash


Behson, S. J. (2005). “The relative contribution of formal and informal organizational work–family support.” Journal of Vocational Behavior, 66, 487–500.

Eagly, A. H. (2009). “The his and hers of prosocial behavior: An examination of the social psychology of gender.” American Psychologist, 64, 644–658.

Eagly, A.H. (2013). “Women as leaders: Leadership style versus leaders’ values and attitudes.” In: C. JE& AJ and Cuddy (eds) Gender and Work: Challenging Conventional Wisdom. Harvard Business School Press Boston, MA, pp. 4–11.

Liebler, C. A., & Sandefur, G. D. (2002). “Gender differences in the exchange of social support with friends, neighbors, and co-workers at midlife.” Social Science Research, 31, 364–391.

Petriglieri, J.L. (2019). “Couples that work.” Harvard Business School Press (North America), Penguin (Rest of the World).

Rofcanin, Y., Heras, M.L. & Bakker, A.B. (2017). Family supportive supervisor behaviors and organizational culture: Effects on work engagement and performance. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 22, 207-217.

Sandberg, S. & Thomas, R. (2020). “The coronavirus pandemic is creating a ‘double-double shift’ for women. Employers must help.” Available on-line at: https://fortune.com/2020/05/07/coronavirus-women-sheryl-sandberg-lean-in-employers-covid-19/



Posted in: Covid19, Employers, Gender equality, Research, Women


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