New Study Spells Disaster for Working Moms

Amidst the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents are now juggling working from home, overseeing their children’s virtual classes and providing child care—all at the same time.

But those parental burdens are not shared equally: The pandemic is exacerbating existing gender disparities in both child care and housework, meaning moms are facing a disproportionate amount of responsibilities at home.

Mothers are doing the majority of homeschooling, and spend an average of 10.3 hours every day looking after their children (2.3 hours more than fathers), while also doing 1.7 hours more than fathers on housework.

These burdens are not likely to let up anytime soon, especially as school districts continue to cancel in-person education in the fall.

Women’s careers are suffering as a result—as commitments at home jeopardize women’s ability to perform at work.

A new study shows mothers in heterosexual relationships have been forced to scale back their working hours by about two hours per week—four to five times more than fathers. Most fathers who can work remotely are continuing to put in a full work week, while mothers are much more likely to drop hours, or to be suddenly interrupted while working—a situation that has the added pitfall of seeming “unprofessional.”

Those two hours per week may not sound like much, but they will have a devastating impact on women in the workforce for years to come. It will greatly reduce women’s earning potential over the course of the year, and could make women less likely to receive raises, bonuses or promotions, because they will be viewed as not being as committed to their job as their male coworkers.

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Even worse, the authors of the study believe that this gap in working hours will lead to a “downward spiral” for women—forcing many to leave their jobs to care for their families, especially if their school district goes virtual again this fall.

During the COVID-19 era of unprecedented mass layoffs and furloughs, this could make employers more likely to target women.

The result? Millions of working moms out of jobs during an unprecedented economic and health crisis. And it’s not easy to bounce back from extended time away from the workforce, as many women who return to work after being stay-at-home moms can attest. Resume gaps can be hard to explain, and some employers may be less enthusiastic about hiring someone who’s prioritized family over work in the past. 

The impact of COVID-19 on working moms could ripple out to affect women for years or even decades. Women are already vulnerable to discrimination in the workforce, and this crisis could set us back even further.

We must fight for policies that support working parents, allow flexibility for employees, and look for ways to protect the health and careers of working moms.


Katie Fleischer (she/they) is a Ms. editorial assistant working on the Front and Center series and Keeping Score.