COVID-19 has brought about important shifts in labor patterns and working arrangements. Whether they are working from home, from outside the home or have recently become unemployed, women’s ability to juggle multiple tasks – from work, to housekeeping, to childcare and supervision – has been put to the test.
Between February 25 and March 24, we conducted a survey targeting working or recently unemployed mothers, asking them about their occupation, the number of children in their care and the impact of the pandemic on their lives. Among other things, the survey inquired about any changes in the amount of domestic and childcare duties, how that influences women’s working hours, how much help they receive from members of their family and what they feel would significantly improve their current situation.
Additionally, we asked female professionals from different fields –from teachers, to CEOs – about their experiences and challenges during this pandemic.
73% of Women Who Lost Their Job Point to Lack of Support in the Face of Mounting Childcare Duties
In the U.S., women represented 46% of workers before COVID-19. According to a study commissioned by American Express, women-owned businesses made up 42% of all businesses in 2019. However, throughout 2020, women’s position within the labor market has been undermined by the strong disruptive forces set in motion by the pandemic. Estimations made by the McKinsey Global Institute showed that women’s jobs have been 1.8 times more vulnerable than men’s during this period.
While 93% of survey takers said they held unto their jobs or businesses, approximately 7% reported being currently unemployed – a number that roughly matches the most recent national unemployment average for women in the U.S. Of those who lost their jobs, 62% were either let go or had to permanently or temporarily suspend their business activities due to COVID-19 restrictions. Another 38% decided to leave employment.
I was a Partner in a CPA firm and had to leave my career when childcare closed down for an extended period of time. Now I am finally getting back on my feet again starting a toy company now that school just returned a few weeks ago.
Sara Feldstein, founder and toy creator @ Barumba Play
While the bulk of these changes in employment occurred following the onset of the pandemic, approximately 30% of women we surveyed had already gone through these shifts before the first lockdowns were put in place.
Women working in retail, education, information services and hotel and food service jobs were hardest hit, making up roughly 70% of the share of unemployed respondents.
Of the women who are currently unemployed, 73% highlighted the need to assume childcare duties, along with the limited options of passing on such duties during work hours as the main reason for their current situation. Insufficient pay prompted 17% of respondents to quit their jobs, with 22% stating that their previous income did not cover their basic household needs.
76% of women currently out of work highlight childcare, supervision, and housekeeping as their most time intensive duties. About 23% spend most of their time looking for new work opportunities or engaging in online training courses.
30% of Women Say Their Income Doesn’t Cover Their Basic Needs – Many Would Consider a Career Change
Among those employed, 90% work either full-time or part-time, with the other 10% split between women who own their own ventures and those that work on a per project basis.
I highly recommend writing out ALL of the house tasks and explicitly dividing them between the household members. There is so much hidden work that women do, and it needs to be seen!
Lillie Marshall, artist and English teacher @ DrawingsOf.com
Asked about their income, 30% said their current wage fails to cover their basic household needs. Indeed, the majority of respondents are in less well remunerated occupations in the healthcare, education or retail sector.
For instance – according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – the mean annual wage of home health aides in 2019 was just $26,330. More importantly however, certain trends within our societies end up effecting women more, especially during times of crisis. Women carry out a disproportionately large share of unpaid care work, including childcare, caring for the elderly, cooking, and cleaning.
Today, an important share of “pink collar” jobs – such as home care providers and healthcare support workers – are associated with low wages. Which might explain why 45% of employed survey takers are considering a career change. Among these, approximately two thirds are interested in a better paid job, while 18% would change course for a more flexible schedule. Another 18% want to try a different line of work. While recent data shows statewide unemployment numbers improved significantly since mid-March 2020, the uneven recovery means women that have access to more dynamic job markets are more likely to exercise their options in this regard.
64% of Women Still Receive Little or No Help in Housekeeping & Childcare from Their Partners
In terms of preferred work arrangements, a third would like to continue working from home full-time and 37% think that a flexible schedule would provide the best balance for them – allowing them time with their family, while also providing them a professional setting to meet clients and socialize with other professionals. There is also, however, a significant 30% minority that is eager to get back to the office and exclusively work from there.
I love working at home, so I’ll hopefully maintain that, with the ability to have in person meetings as needed.
Marni Katz, freelance writer, editor and photographer @ Simple Gray T-shirt
Both mothers and fathers are affected by daycares, kindergartens and schools being closed indefinitely or re-opened only intermittently, but there’s evidence that working mothers have taken on more of the resulting childcare responsibilities. Some 45% of respondents said they were doing more housekeeping and childcare work since the pandemic. Moreover, 53% of employed women felt that childcare and housekeeping required most of their attention. Another 46% reported spending most of their time on work and career development.
While there has been discussion within the public sphere about men – or partners of any gender – and the need for them to pitch in when it comes to domestic duties, our survey still found that roughly 64% of women were doing all or most of this type of work. Only 6% feel that their partners have taken it upon themselves to handle childcare and housekeeping, but 30% say that these tasks are split evenly between partners.
Helping Working Mothers – Nearly Half Want Flexible Hours
Since people started working from home, there were worries about the effect that various distractions in the home would have on worker productivity. Undoubtedly, there are those that have struggled to carry on as usual from home, struggling with a range of issues – perching on the kitchen counter for lack of a designated space, struggling to maintain a professional image during meetings with kids and pets running around in the background, or simply missing their daily office interactions. For mothers, these struggles are compounded by their increased domestic workload.
Working from home is kind of rough in general, but for my family, it was a HUGE transition. My husband always works from home, and he has an office. However, we don’t have space for two people in the office-plus he is on the phone most of the time anyway-and there isn’t another dedicated space. I spent most days working from the couch or dining room table, which aren’t comfortable when you are trying to work.
Chelsea Roller, content marketing manager @ Rank Fuse Digital Marketing
While 35% of women reported no major distractions to their workflow as a result of increased household and childcaring duties, roughly a third said they were having trouble focusing throughout the day. To make up for breaks they had to take during their work hours, 17% reported working longer hours, while 13% of respondents had to cut back on the number of hours on the job in the face of mounting household and childcaring duties.
It impacted my job to a greater extent. I considered leaving my duties several times because I wasn’t able to handle work and home at the same time. It sometimes stresses me out and I suffer from burnout because of housekeeping and childcare burden during work from home.
Jill Sandy, landscape consultant @ Constant Delights
When asked what would make their life as working moms easier, 47% wished their employers would continue offering flexible work schedules even after schools and kindergartens are open. With nearly 4.5 million U.S. daycare slots that might be permanently lost due to the pandemic, 26% of respondents think that available and affordable childcare options would greatly improve their experience as working mothers. Another 27% would like to see a more equal distribution of household and child supervision tasks within their family.
I am so looking forward to teachers, school staff, and daycare workers being vaccinated. Between that and grandparents receiving the vaccine having access to safe and thoughtful school, daycare, and childcare would be life changing. We don’t just need schools to be open – we need them to have a plan in place to keep teachers, staff, and students safe! It’s not helpful if they keep closing for two weeks at a time. I think at this point we’re all looking for some consistency and the ability to plan more than a month in advance.
Ashley Brichter, founder and CEO @ Birth Smarter
We conducted a nationwide survey of 1,083 respondents, addressed to working or recently unemployed mothers in an effort to ascertain their changing workload and schedules during the pandemic and their outlook on what could improve their current situation.
We used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and the survey platform SurveyMonkey to conduct this survey. It has a 3% margin of error and a 95% confidence level.
The survey was conducted between February 25 and March 24, 2021.