How the pandemic forced a generation of mothers to leave work

In the past few months, Alicia Wertz has barely seen her husband. Since closing schools in northern Alabama towns in March, they have single-mindedly focused on one goal: to ensure that someone is watching their three children. At first, Wertz tried to work from home. But she didn’t do anything, so they tried to work in different shifts: Wertz’s husband watched the children in the morning, and then a nanny rescued him in the afternoon until Wertz came back from get off work.

“When we are not working, we are alone with the children. It almost feels like you are a single parent. All you have to do is go to work and take care of the children.” Wertz said.

In her mind, Wertz kept decreasing until the day when the school reopened. But there is an annoyance in the back of her head-what if they don’t open it at all? “on [my kids] Not looking back in the fall is devastating. “This raises the question: Does one of us have to stay with our children, and whose job is more important? I think this is a conversation we did have before, but COVID-19 has made the situation worse. “

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Woz is not the only working mother who feels both relaxed and scared about the journey of autumn. What happens next may have a disproportionate impact on the careers of countless women across the country, and the impact will last. Studies have shown that women have shouldered the burden of caring for and educating their children at home; now, due to the pandemic, they are also more likely to be unemployed than men. The collapse of the childcare and public education infrastructure on which so many parents depend will only exacerbate these problems and even make some women withdraw from the labor market altogether.

“We may erase the limited benefits that have been brought to women over the past few decades, especially women of color,” Melissa Boteach, Vice President of Income Security and Child Care/Early Learning, National Women’s Law Center.

The crux of the problem is that childcare services are not as popular as they were before the pandemic.Data provided to FiveThirtyEight by the job search website indeed Shows that compared with other economic sectors, the speed of providing childcare services again is much slower (this is a useful agent for reopening):

Combine it with news Many schools will be closed in the fall, and it is easy to see the immediate crisis. If there are signs of voting, then the vast majority of the dust falls on mothers, who have been engaged in a lot of housework even before the pandemic began.

In 2015, the Pew Research Center Ask parents How do they share family responsibilities when working full-time. Some tasks are distributed relatively evenly: 20% of the interviewees said that mothers discipline their children more, 17% of fathers discipline their children more, and 61% of children say that responsibility is shared. However, for each task, more interviewees reported that mothers had more work than fathers said, including areas involving managing children’s schedules, caring for children when sick, and handling housework.

Mom usually bears more burden at home

According to a Pew poll, the percentage of parents in a family with two full-time working parents, they say that each parent is doing more work in a given category

Who said… the percentage of parents
category Mom does more Father do more Work equally
Manage your child’s schedule/activities 54% 6% 39%
Take care of sick children 47 6 47
Handle housework, etc. 31 9 59
Play/do activities with children twenty two 13 64
Discipline children 20 17 61

According to a poll conducted by Pew Research in 2015, the sample size was 531 respondents. The sample includes only male/female married couples.

Source: Pew Research Center

Similarly, Pew Also found In a poll in 2019, 80% of women with partners who live with their children undertook major grocery shopping and meal preparation for their families.And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics U.S. Time Use Survey This technology can track the average time people spend on various activities each day. Married mothers who work full-time spend 56% more time on childcare and housework than their fathers. In contrast, the father spends more time on work-related tasks, travel and leisure activities.

All the extra time mom spends really add up

According to the U.S. Time Use Survey, parents of married children under the age of 18 spend time doing various activities every day. Both of them work full-time.

Time spent per day
activity Mothers Parents difference
Family activities 1.87 1.23 +0.64
Child body care 0.59 0.28 0.31
Parenting-Other 0.36 0.22 0.14
Child-related travel 0.25 0.13 0.12
Education-related activities 0.10 0.06 0.04
Study with kids 0.05 0.03 0.02
Play with kids/hobbies 0.27 0.29 -0.02
All 3.49 2.24 1.25

The survey data covers the combined years from 2015 to 2019, including heterosexual and same-sex couples.


Even under normal circumstances, it is difficult for young mothers to balance work with the heavy burden of parenting.U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Established In 2019, the labor force participation rate of children under 6 years old was 66.4%, which was much lower than the labor force participation rate of children over 6 years old (76.8%).According to the 2014 survey U.S. Census Bureau, 61% of unemployed women and women with young children listed “nursing” as a reason for not being employed. 46% of unemployed women and older children say the same.From this perspective, only ten percent All Taking care of unemployed respondents is the reason.

Similar pressures have also appeared in the decision of working mothers to take unpaid leave, or even part-time rather than full-time. According to the same census in 2014, 30% of young women working part-time and 19% of women with older children said that caring is the reason for their part-time work. (Among part-time employees, the overall share is only 7%.)

Now, as schools close and day care institutions strive to remain open, even more women may conclude that the best choice for family and their own sanity-perhaps the only option-is to reduce working hours, even in careers “pause”. .

Lee Dunham, a lawyer who lives in Delaware, said: “Sometimes I get to the point where I am so tired, I have to work part-time to make this all work properly.” Since the pandemic began Since then, Dunham is mainly responsible for her 10-month-old daughter during the day-which means that her work does not start until 8pm, usually around 2am. “I basically don’t get enough sleep because I don’t get enough sleep every week. It depends on the baby for 40 hours, 40 hours of work a week. It’s really rough. “

Dunham felt she was lucky to have an employer who knew the situation. She told her earlier this year that they would lay off all employees for some time due to the pandemic. She added that at the time, everyone was assuming daylight saving time to start daycare. “It may be that I have to call back time, which of course means that my salary will be reduced.”

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This calculus has depressed women’s wages and made their career development more difficult. According to the National Women’s Law Center, Usually for every dollar paid to the father, the mother only gets 71 cents. Actually, Many recent studies The survey of the gender wage gap found that a large part of the reason is simply the restriction of working mothers.For example, 2018 Analyze data from Denmark It is found to be opposed to the United States in terms of social safety nets, but there is still a large and persistent gender wage gap. Women’s income has dropped significantly After giving birth to the first child, the man’s income was not affected at all.It is essential Several studies Found in the U.S. and other countries Wage trajectory For women without children Like Those men, Whether or not they have children (although Some studies actually show Becoming a father can contribute to the success of a man’s career).

This difference is especially serious for women of color. According to NWLC data, black mothers get only 54 cents for every dollar paid to white fathers. For Latino mothers, this is 46 cents.Low-income women Also most likely Unemployed in the current economic recession.They disproportionately may Yes Childcare worker They are required to return to work, sometimes under unsafe working conditions, to reduce wages. Botac said: “We are in a vicious circle. We need childcare services. This is one of the tools that enable women to get equal pay. However, unequal pay is one of the main reasons why women are forced to stay at home.”

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Even if there is only one or two years, leaving the labor force will have a knock-on effect. This effect will affect women’s life, and even Depressed her retirement income. It can be very difficult for mothers to find a new job after a few years of leave, because the stereotype of the mother does not pay much attention to their career because they take time to spend time with their children. A study Since 2007, people have found that mothers are not as capable as their fathers, and the recommended salary is also lower.

During this pandemic, you can already see that disproportionate effects are taking shape. The unemployment rate for women in April was 16.2%, higher than any month. At least since 1948, And then fell to 11.7% in June, a percentage point higher than before Ratio to men (10.6%).Women’s participation in the workforce is greater Down to 54.7% Before it rose to 56.1% last month in April.Both figures are reminiscent of the female ratio in the 1980s-when the concept of women in the workforce was still very early Still growing.

Wertz has no plans to leave her plan-at least for now. She said: “I worked very hard to get to where I am now.” “Basically, I finished my studies without the support of my family. For many years, I worked hard because I didn’t have enough money.” She was already worried. Because she is a mother, her views on the workplace are different. She said: “Even if it’s only a year, I know what gaps will appear in my resume.” “If I have to take a step back, I just don’t know if I can recover from it.”

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