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"COVID Motherhood Penalty" Set Working Moms Back

Mom working at home while caring for kids during COVID.
In 2020, women with school-age children definitely experienced a "COVID motherhood penalty," said Rutgers-New Brunswick professor Yana Rodgers, as evidenced by growing gender gaps in employment/population ratios and working hours.
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Rutgers labor expert Yana Rodgers predicts working mothers could benefit from flexible work arrangements and shifting social norms post-pandemic 

Working mothers have suffered greatly during this pandemic. Many left the workforce or put advancements on hold while educating/caring for remote students or struggling to find childcare. According to new research by the National Women’s Law Center, post-pandemic job recovery has been slower for women, with over a million men joining the labor force last month compared to only 39,000 women 

Rutgers Today spoke with Yana Rodgers, professor with Rutgers-New Brunswick’s School of Management and Labor Relations and School of Arts and Sciences and director of the Center for Women and Work, about how the pandemic set working women back. However, Rodgers predicts that, ultimately, COVID-19 may shift social mores and workplace policies that positively impact working women in the long run.

How far did the pandemic set working mothers back, and how long will it take for them to make up for that lost time? 

In 2020, women with school-age children definitely experienced a "COVID motherhood penalty," as evidenced by growing gender gaps in employment/population ratios and working hours. School and day care center closures required parents to spend more time at home caring for children and supervising their schooling, and the bulk of this work fell on the shoulders of women. Strong economic growth in 2021 and children going back to school meant lower unemployment and growing labor force participation for women, but not all women have gained equally, with the gains for Black women lagging behind. The recovery is not as inclusive as was predicted.

Will there be benefits that arise from the pandemic that will help level the playing field for women in the long run: flexible work schedules, ability to stay home with sick kids and not be penalized? 

Many signs point to the U.S. emerging from this pandemic with less distinct gender norms that may neutralize the stigma of the ‘mommy track,’ making retention and promotion in the workforce easier for women. The current challenge for working mothers is to endure the disruptions caused by this pandemic so they may benefit from a more agile work environment in the future.

What impact has this had on family dynamics in terms of the role that men play in the household and the amount of effort they put in to keep it running?   

My research with collaborators at Rutgers shows that both men and women experienced an increase in the amount of unpaid work within the home during the pandemic relative to before, with women performing more. Of note, as men took on a greater share of household labor, women reported greater odds of being more productive and satisfied with their paid jobs. The shifting balance of paid-to-unpaid labor within the home during the COVID-19 pandemic is poised to alter social norms around the household division of labor and lessen the stigma surrounding beneficial workplace policies that support working parents.