Women Have Been Hardest Hit by COVID-19 Housing Market, Zillow Finds

By Jemima McEvoy Thursday, November 12, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has not impacted all people equally. In terms of health, it’s the country’s elderly population that has been devastated. In terms of business, minority entrepreneurs have fared the worst. In terms of housing, a new analysis from Zillow finds its women bearing the brunt of the struggle.

“The pandemic-led recession is disproportionately hurting women in the workforce and is more likely to threaten their housing security,” summarized Zillow, a Seattle-based real estate database company with an estimated revenue of $2.7 billion in 2019.

Why? Well, it’s a question of unemployment, unequal rent burdens, and long-standing gender inequalities that the coronavirus pandemic has only worsened.

Through analyzing economic trends, Zillow concluded that women have been significantly harder hit in general by the COVID-induced recession than men. Unemployment claims among women were up 1,368% year-over-year at the height of the coronavirus crisis in May. That number is ten times higher than what men experienced even during the worst of the 2008 financial crisis. Men did experience a record increase during the months of COVID-19, reaching a 983% year-over-year increase in May. However, that is still significantly lower than what women suffered, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

One of the key reasons why women were affected by unemployment at a much higher rate than men is because of how the pandemic has, as mentioned above, exacerbated pre-existing gender gaps. Facing the problem of many schools not reopening in coronavirus hotspot areas, women were much more likely to have to leave work to care for children. In fact, MOB Nation, a national organization dedicated to mom-owned businesses, found in a survey of the virus’s impact on women that 62% of mom entrepreneurs have to be entirely or primarily in charge of their children’s distance learning, and 74% have to change their business hours due to a lack of child care. Additionally, 55% report being challenged by a lack of time or space to work, 60% rate their daily stress level as a four or five on a five-point scale, and 50% experienced a dip or slowdown in business since COVID-19 began.

“Because women are more likely than men to work in the industries hardest-hit by the pandemic, the unprecedented surge in unemployment is impacting them far more severely,” found the report, which referenced a commonly used economist term “she-cession” to describe what’s currently happening for women.

All of this has had a severe impact on the job market. Four times as many women as men left the workforce in September alone—that amounts to 865,000 women and 80% of all workers who dropped out of the workforce over the one month period.

The runoff consequences of this are, of course, huge. A key one being the changes Zillow is reporting in the renters market.

Women are now under unprecedented financial strain in the housing market due to the fact that 37% of female households, versus 31% of male, are rented. Furthermore, “45% of female renter households are cost-burdened, spending more than 30% of their income on housing, compared to 36% of male renter households,” Zillow’s analysis found. Nearly a quarter (24%) of all female renter households qualify as severely cost-burdened — compared to 17% of men — meaning the economic instability caused by COVID-19 has put them in a more-than-precarious position.

Additionally, as has been true of most COVID-19 windfalls, communities of color once again fare the worst. Women of color are more likely to be cost-burdened by housing, the analysis points out, to the tune of 51% of Latinx female renter households and 49% of Black female renter households. More than a quarter (27%) of both Hispanic and Black female renter households qualify as severely cost-burdened.

“Any loss of income, even temporarily, puts cost-burdened renter households at risk of housing instability,” per the report.

So what’s the fix here? Well, there are short-term solutions like federal eviction bans or a new aid package including more unemployment benefits (which has been up for debate in Congress for months now), but really, Zillow says, what needs to be considered are systemic changes that will root out the cause of these problems.

“These are short-term fixes,” said Zillow’s Senior Economist Cherly Young. “Longer term solutions like creating more affordable housing stock, economic policies that assist working parents and increased voucher availability, are vital to ensuring that housing burdens don’t fall disproportionately on women.”

The coronavirus pandemic has had dire consequences all around. However, there is a possibility that it could lead to good if government officials view this as a learning lesson — looking at the dirt this pandemic has exposed and, instead of trying to sweep it under the rug, properly cleaning it up.

About the Author


Headshot of Jemima McEvoy

Jemima is a journalist who enjoys reporting on business, particularly small business and entrepreneurship.

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