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Blog Post · February 8, 2023

Shifting Gender Employment Patterns and California’s Care Sector

photo - Home Healthcare Nurse Helping Senior Woman

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a disproportionate drop in women’s employment. This pattern was driven in part by women taking on more child and elder care responsibilities at home in the face of increased health risks at day cares, schools, and nursing homes. However, that pattern has now reversed, with women’s employment recovery outpacing that of men’s. How do these trends relate to patterns of employment in the care sector—and what do they suggest about the shifting balance of work and caregiving as the pandemic recedes?

Although jobs continue to grow in California at a rate that outpaces national growth, not all sectors have fully recovered. In December, total nonfarm employment was up 3.6% (or 621,400 jobs) from a year ago (ahead of the nationwide annual gain of 3%). However, employment in child day care services is 5.4% below February 2020 levels, while employment in nursing and residential care facilities is 3.8% below pre-pandemic levels. Since we last checked in on these sectors, there has been some improvement, but the current trajectory does not suggest that the gaps will close anytime soon.

Despite the sluggish jobs recovery in the care sector, a slightly larger share of California women ages 25–54 are employed today than before the pandemic (72.5% in the last quarter of 2022 vs. 71.7% in the last quarter of 2019). This pattern has been even stronger among women with young children (64% employed today vs. 62% pre-pandemic). How is this possible, given that employment at child care services and nursing care facilities is still constrained?

One possibility is that fathers are taking on more dependent care responsibilities. We find that a smaller share of men are employed today than before the pandemic. The employment rate for men is 2 percentage points behind what it was in the last quarter of 2019 (84% vs. 86%). For men with young children, employment is even further behind pre-pandemic levels (87% vs. 94%). There is some evidence that fathers are taking on more child care responsibilities, which may be driving these divergent employment patterns across genders. But employment is also affected by job opportunity, skills, and access, factors that we will examine further in future posts.

Another possibility is that more informal or at-home care is being provided, which would not be fully captured in the sector employment data shown above. These arrangements may have become more common since the beginning of the pandemic. For example, employment in home health care services has grown 13% compared to February 2020, which raises the question of whether working adults are providing more in-home elder care themselves, perhaps with greater help from professional home health aides. With roughly 35% of Californians working from home or in a hybrid setting, according to PPIC’s November survey, this increase in flexible work arrangements might be affecting demand for both elder and child care services.

Lastly, California’s population is changing in notable ways. For example, there were 5.6% fewer children under age five in 2021 than in 2019, according to the American Community Survey. Early evidence suggests that there was a further decline in 2022. While California’s population is aging, the number of people in the 76-to-99-year-old age group shrank over the last few years, due to the pandemic increase in deaths among older adults.

While some of these factors may have reduced demand for professional caregiving, evidence suggests that providers are still struggling to hire. Details on real-time job openings within the sector are limited; however, nationally, job openings in health and social assistance, which includes child care services and nursing care facilities, are historically high and higher than any other major job sector except for leisure and hospitality.

The relatively low pay in many care positions adds to the challenge of recruitment. Recognizing the growing need for caregivers, along with the reality that pay and job conditions often fall short, California’s Master Plan on Aging articulates a goal of creating one million high-quality caregiving jobs by 2030. State and federal programs that support caregiving, both for children and older adults, can play an important role in closing the divide between what care workers need in a job and what Californians who rely on their services can afford. For example, in child care specifically, Californians overwhelmingly support increasing government funding for programs (78% support in PPIC’s November survey). Strengthening these critical care sectors benefits care workers and providers, the children and adults being cared for, and California’s workers and businesses.


child care coronavirus COVID-19 Economic Trends Economy elder care employment jobs Population recovery women