The COVID-19 pandemic has struck businesses across the globe with unprecedented impacts. The world economy has been hit hard and firms have experienced a myriad of challenges, but these challenges have been heterogeneous across firms. This paper examines one important dimension of this heterogeneity: the differential effect of the pandemic on women-led and men-led businesses. The paper exploits a unique sample of close to 40,000 mainly formal businesses from 49 countries covering the months between April and September 2020. The findings show that women-led micro-businesses, women-led businesses in the hospitality industry, and women-led businesses in countries more severely affected by the COVID-19 shock were disproportionately hit compared with businesses led by men. At the same time, women-led micro-firms were markedly more likely to report increasing the use of digital platforms, but less likely to invest in software, equipment, or digital solutions. Finally, the findings also show that women-led businesses were less likely to have received some form of public support although they have been hit harder in some domains. In a crisis of the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic, evidence tracing the impact of the shock in a timely fashion is desperately needed to help inform the design of policy interventions. This real-time glimpse into women-led businesses fills this need for robust and policy-relevant evidence, and due to the large country coverage of the data, it is possible to identify patterns that extend beyond any one country, region, or sector, but at the cost of some granularity for testing more complex economic theories.
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© 2022 International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank. Published by Oxford University Press.