The Pandemic's Effects on Women Around the World

Sawyer Business School marketing students uncover COVID-19's global toll on women's mental health

Photograph by Lauren DeCicca of Masked Women and Children

Story by Ben Hall
Photograph by Lauren DeCicca

In addition to the pandemic’s devastating physical toll, women around the world have experienced real harm to their mental health, according to a study by a group of students in the Sawyer Business School’s marketing program.

The project, undertaken on behalf of the international humanitarian agency CARE, held extra resonance because the students in the capstone course collected data from their home regions: the United States, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, Vietnam, and India.

“What was interesting is that the cause of those mental struggles varied from country to country,” Marketing Program Chair and Professor Pelin Bicen says. In the U.S. and Puerto Rico, the stressor was financial issues. In India, it was relationships. Lack of child-care options was a pressure point in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, but not in Vietnam or Taiwan, where extended family support systems helped reduce stress.

“One thing that did not vary across countries was that the more help women received from their environment—family, friends, relatives, partners—the higher the satisfaction they had with their lives,” Bicen says.

Close to home

Nicole Náter-Navarro, MBA ’21, MSMKT ’21, chose to research her home of Puerto Rico, which was still reeling from the impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria when the pandemic hit.

Food insecurity is an ongoing issue on the island, which imports 95% of its food. This was exacerbated by the pandemic, making it the largest stressor among women. One of Náter-Navarro’s interviewees shared how she was unable to buy food one day because the grocery store wouldn’t let her bring in her two young children. Her only other option was to leave them in the car alone.

Stories like this gave students extra motivation, says Náter-Navarro. “We were so passionate about this project,” she says. “I would want to work on it all week.”

That passion was evident to the students’ clients at CARE, who received presentations about the results virtually. CARE CMO John Aylward says it was clear the students “all connected to the work in some personal way, either through their home country or their heritage.”

Also clear, he says, was the value of their work: “Additional research is always useful to us. It’s good to join it up with the existing data and work that we’ve done.”

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