The Disproportionate Economic Effects of COVID-19 in Canada

By: Kaija Kaarid

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant economic turmoil in Canada. In May, the unemployment rate reached a record high of 13.7% – the worst since 1976, when comparable data became available [1]. A lesser-known fact is that Canadian women have borne a disproportionate share of this economic downturn. They also continue to be disadvantaged as the economy begins to re-open. Using Statistics Canada’s monthly Labour Force Survey reports, let’s walk through what has happened in recent months from an economic perspective:

March 2020

Due to the nature of COVID-19, the greatest job losses occurred in those industries requiring face-to-face contact. Jobs in sales and service occupations (including accommodation/food services and retail) represent 61.8% of the overall jobs lost in March [2]. Further, Canadians who retained their jobs in those industries saw the most reductions in total hours worked. In other words, those who directly served the public were more likely to lose their jobs and, if they remained employed, were more likely to have their hours cut. 

Women are over-represented in the services sector, whereas men make up a greater proportion of the goods-producing sector [1]. As a result, in March 2020, Canadian women aged 25-54 suffered twice the number of jobs lost (298 000) when compared to their male counterparts (127 000) [2]. Furthermore, 885 000 women aged 25-54 lost most or all of their working hours, compared to 637 000 men. 

April 2020

In April, a higher proportion of job losses occurred in the male-dominated goods-producing sector, which includes jobs in construction and manufacturing [3]. As a result, job losses in April were greater among men than women. Overall, from February to April, total employment declined by 16.9% among women aged 15 and older, whereas total employment of men in the same age group declined by 14.6% [3]. 

Although the gender gap in cumulative employment losses narrowed during this month, most of the job losses among women had already occurred in March. As a result, impacted Canadian women may have been affected by the financial burden of unemployment for a longer time than their male counterparts.

May 2020

As the economy began to re-open, overall employment increased by 1.8% and the number of people working less than half of their normal hours decreased by 8.6% [1]. Unfortunately, these employment gains were not distributed equally among men and women. 

In May, total employment increased twice as fast among men relative to women [1]. As a result, 14.0% of jobs lost in March and April were recovered among men, compared to just 5.4% job recovery among women. More rapid revitalization of the goods-producing industries may have contributed to this imbalance.


These observed gender disparities regarding the economic impacts of COVID-19 have led some to call this period a ‘she-cession’. As we continue to re-open the economy, it will be essential for our COVID-19 recovery plans to address the gender-specific impacts of this pandemic, economic and otherwise.


1. Statistics Canada. Labour Force Survey, May 2020. Available from:

2. Statistics Canada. Labour Force Survey, March 2020. Available from:

3. Statistics Canada. Labour Force Survey, April 2020. Available from:

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