17 Sep The moms are not alright: COVID and the working mom
Research has consistently shown that, even with the progress that’s been made toward greater gender equality, on average, mothers perform more child rearing labour than their partners in heterosexual relationships. And, now, it seems that the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating this issue for many working moms.
Working mothers with young or school age children are in a complicated juggling act. They’re working from home while also trying to perform childcare duties, due to losing many of the social structures that typically are part of the village required to raise children. Or, they’ve returned to the office when kids returned to school but are stuck in a pattern of having to stay home when kids become ill and have to isolate.
A recent study from USC (albeit based on an American population), found the following:
- One-third of working mothers in two-parent households reported they were the only ones providing care for their children, compare to one-tenth of working fathers.
- Women with children reported higher levels of psychological distress compared to women without children and to men with or without children.
- This division of childcare is associated with a reduction in working hours and an increased probability of transitioning out of employment for working mothers. While this may be due to economics in many cases, in that men on average earn more than women, this scenario only serves to further the pervasive gender gap in earnings between men and women.
A similar study with Canadian data on found similar patterns in Canadian families.
Further complicating challenges is the fact that many low income women work in service industries and do not even have the option to work from home and may be forced to leave jobs. Further, women of color are disproportionately represented in these industries.
It appears that the current situation is impacting both mothers’ psychological distress and their ability to participate in the workforce, which impacts financial stability and career trajectories for working moms. We should also point out that these challenges are likely to be greater for single parent families, wherein the sole parent is shouldering these challenges alone.
As this pandemic continues and governments and citizens focus on trying to recover, gendered implications, particularly for working mothers, low income mothers, and women of color, must be taken into account. Otherwise, we risk a large step back for gender equality. So, what can we do now? Here are some ideas:
- Employers can implement more flexible policies that allow remote work, more flexible hours, etc. This will maximize employers’ candidate pool and keep diverse talent in the workplace.
- Reach out to your working mom friends. Or, if you’re a working mom, reach out for support.
- If it doesn’t put your health at risk and you have the capacity, offer to help out, drop off a meal, etc.
- Advocate with government officials, employers, etc for policies that support working moms (and particularly single moms, low income families, and women of color), decrease the wage gap, and improve social supports for those most disadvantaged by the pandemic.
- Have conversation with friends and family about this gender gap so that we can move toward more balanced shared labour. Parenting issues should not be women’s issues. There is opportunity for progress.
Johnston, R., Mohammed, A., & Van der Linden, C. (2020). Evidence of Exacerbated Gender Inequality in Child Care Obligations in Canada and Australia During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Politics & Gender, 1-16. doi:10.1017/S1743923X20000574
Zamarro, G., & Prados, M. J. (2020). Gender differences in couples’ division of childcare, work and mental health during COVID-19. USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research. Available from https://cesr.usc.edu/documents/WP_2020_003.pdf