June 2021

IZA DP No. 14519: How Did the COVID-19 Crisis Affect Different Types of Workers in the Developing World?

This paper investigates the impacts of the economic shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on the employment of different types of workers in developing countries. Employment outcomes are taken from a set of high-frequency phone surveys conducted by the World Bank and National Statistics Offices in 40 countries. Larger shares of female, young, less educated, and urban workers stopped working. Gender gaps in work stoppage were particularly pronounced and stemmed mainly from differences within sectors rather than differential employment patterns across sectors. Differences in work stoppage between urban and rural workers were markedly smaller than those across gender, age, and education groups. Preliminary results from 10 countries suggest that following the initial shock at the start of the pandemic, employment rates partially recovered between April and August, with greater gains for those groups that had borne the brunt of the early jobs losses. Although the high-frequency phone surveys greatly over-represent household heads and therefore overestimate employment rates, case studies in five countries suggest that they provide a reasonably accurate measure of disparities in employment levels by gender, education, and urban/rural location following the onset of the crisis, although they perform less well in capturing disparities between age groups. These results shed new light on the labor market consequences of the COVID-19 crisis in developing countries, and suggest that real-time phone surveys, despite their lack of representativeness, are a valuable source of information to measure differential employment impacts across groups during a crisis.