- Working mothers with young children reduced their work hours four to five times more than fathers did as a result of increased caregiving demands caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study published this month in the academic journal Gender, Work and Organization.
- As a result, the gender gap in work hours grew by 20% to 50%, researchers said. The study used panel data from the U.S. Current Population Survey that encompassed a time period from February through April 2020. Mothers scaled back their work hours by about 5%, or two hours per week, while fathers' work hours "remained largely stable."
- "To put this in context, this is nearly double the reduction in work hours experienced by women in the U.S. during the 2007-2009 Great Recession, where women's weekly work hours fell by just over 30 minutes per week," researchers said.
The findings coincide with other observed gender-based gaps in relation to the impact of COVID-19. For example, the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation found in March polls of U.S. workers that women were more likely than men to report that stress or worry related to the coronavirus had a negative impact on their mental health. This gap widened between men and women who were parents of children under the age of 18. Additionally, the study found women were more likely than men to say their lives had been disrupted "a lot" by the initial COVID-19 outbreak.
Though many employers moved to remote work operations during COVID-19, the Gender, Work and Organization researchers found that telecommuting may still lead to mothers scaling back more work hours than fathers to take care of responsibilities at home. Among mothers and fathers in the study with children ages one through five who worked in telecommuting-capable jobs, the resulting reduction in hours worked per week was nearly 4.5 times larger for women than men.
The authors of the study noted that their research did not seek to determine whether the disparity in work-hour reductions was a consequence of mothers assuming a larger share of domestic work, employers' greater time demands on fathers versus mothers or "whether in times of crisis families tend to revert to more traditional gender roles in the household division of labor." The long-term consequences of the findings are also not yet known, the researchers added.
"Flexibility is key right now," Caitlyn Collins, co-author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a statement. "By easing work demands and allowing flexibility where possible in the coming months, employers can prevent long-term losses in women's labor force participation. And fathers should be encouraged to provide more hours of care for their children, even if it means sacrificing paid work hours to do so."
The pandemic is driving a larger conversation about D&I efforts at organizations, and tackling gender-based disparities has formed part of that discussion. A May report by consulting firm McKinsey & Company found companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than peer organizations in the fourth quartile of 2019. The report also posited that companies that continue their D&I efforts during the pandemic could strengthen employee motivation.