Interruptions in career development, more unpaid family work and insufficient research into the side effects of vaccinations: the list of consequences of the pandemic that women are still struggling with is long. But there are also positive developments left over from the lockdown.

Career drop, loss of salary and too little attention in medical research? The corona pandemic could also bring long-term disadvantages to many women in Germany. Critical voices come from sociology and medicine on International Women’s Day on March 8th. In retrospect, the time of crisis appears to researchers as an example of missed opportunities – and as a wake-up call to do better in the future.

Even before the pandemic, the Berlin sociologist Jutta Allmendinger recommended a four-day week for men and women and, following the Scandinavian model, advocated more paternity leave. She drew attention to the time-off and part-time traps for women and recommended shared responsibility in executive floors. At the beginning of the pandemic, she warned against regression in equality.

What is she saying today? “During the pandemic, courses were set in many life courses that cannot simply be reversed,” Allmendinger summarizes. “For women there will remain gaps in their career development, which will show up in their lifetime earnings and retirement benefits.” The researcher enumerates: They reduced working hours, changed jobs, tended to work from home. You took longer than planned parental leave. She experienced it herself at her Berlin Science Center for Social Research. “I’ve lost brilliant scientists who have switched to the administrative area. The path to a professorship is blocked.”

Women who were in the fast lane in large, globally oriented companies also went part-time or took a break. “The losers are mainly women with small children and women with care responsibilities for the parents’ generation,” she adds. The sociologist senses something else, beyond money and career. It’s about attitudes, norms and social culture. “Negative attitudes towards mothers working – i.e. the unspeakable idea of ​​a ‘raven mother’ – have been more popular during the pandemic than before,” she says.

Change of scene, cut towards medicine and research. Here, too, the corona pandemic has highlighted the disadvantages women can have because they are women. Even after the hot initial phase, including the search for a vaccine, which is forgiving in some cases, they were not seen enough, summarizes Ute Seeland, Chair of the German Society for Gender-Specific Medicine and internist at the Berlin Charité. “Men and women have different immune systems,” explains the doctor. “They can therefore also react differently to a vaccination – just like to any other active ingredient.”

According to studies, for example, younger women in particular with high estrogen levels felt more side effects than men with the same dosage of the corona vaccines. Would women at this stage of life perhaps have needed lower dosages? “This question has not been consistently pursued,” criticizes the doctor.

Such findings have remained little noticed by manufacturers and are also hidden in studies in the appendix. Because women with their different hormonal status – with their menstrual cycle, during pregnancy and after the menopause – generally make research more complicated and therefore more expensive. “And then it quickly becomes clear that the benefits for society will be greater if we don’t make things so complicated now,” says Seeland. “That’s the crux. Women don’t have to be included in studies alone. You have to draw conclusions from the results.”

Back to society. According to the most recent report to the G7, an association of western industrial nations, women in Germany do an average of four hours and two minutes of unpaid family work a day. For men, it’s two hours and 30 minutes. Internationally, this is not a glorious newspaper. Family work is not only about children either. In Germany, it is increasingly about aging parents. The majority of them are cared for at home. Allmendinger predicts that as life expectancy increases, the younger generation will have more care responsibilities. This can create new part-time traps. But politicians are pushing that out of sheer digitization, climate debate and war in Ukraine. “We’re not building the structures we need.”

The Bertelsmann Foundation calculated in 2020 that there are already differences of up to one million euros in the earned income of men and women over their entire lives in Germany. Allmendinger estimates that in Germany, 22 billion euros in taxes are lost every year through the spouse splitting alone: ​​Because, at least from a tax point of view, it is not worthwhile for partners with a lower income to go to work. “That’s money that we could use really well for day care centers and all-day schools.”

Is there nothing positive that remains as a lesson from the pandemic? “The tender little plant from the home office grew a lot during Corona,” says Allmendinger. “Working from home breaks through the culture of being present. It may turn out that this also marks the beginning of a four-day week.” Here, too, it is about more than money. “A society without time for each other flies apart easily, the social glue is missing.”