Just How Much Is Remote Work Hurting Working Moms?

It’s no secret working moms have been hit extremely hard by COVID-19. While many women hoped that stay-at-home orders would lead men to invest more time into housework and childcare, gender disparities have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Women are overwhelmingly taking on the burdens of childcare, homeschooling and housework, while also trying to work from home to provide for their families.

In July, a study warned that working mothers were about to enter a “downward spiral” in the workforce. Moms are working two hours per week less than they did before the pandemic—which the authors warned could lead to women having reduced earning potentials and being forced to leave their jobs to care for their children.

Now, the downward spiral they predicted is beginning to affect women’s careers and jeopardize the entire female workforce. 

A new study reveals working dads are three times as likely as moms to receive a promotion while working remotely. One-third of working dads have received a promotion while working at home due to the pandemic—compared to only 9 percent of working moms.

And 26 percent of dads have received a pay raise—while only 13 percent of moms have.

Overall, dads working remotely are far more likely than moms to have taken on leadership roles, been given important responsibilities and receive praise for their work. As a result, men are actually benefiting from working remotely, while women are being left behind. Men are almost twice as likely to say that working at home during the pandemic has helped their career, and two-thirds of men (versus 41 percent of women) say they have been more productive while working at home.

And men’s increased success at work comes at the expense of the women in their lives. Because of the traditional gendered divisions of labor, women are more likely to have to care for children, or even homeschool them, at the same time they are trying to perform at work. Mothers spend an average of 10.3 hours every day looking after their children (2.3 hours more than fathers), while also doing 1.7 more hours of housework than fathers.


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All of that unpaid work means that working moms are much less likely to have time to focus on their jobs. One study found that dads get twice as much uninterrupted work time during the day (5.1 hours) compared to moms (at 2.6). Nearly half of moms’ paid work hours are split between work and other distractions.

And while working moms are clearly expending hours of mental, physical and emotional labor for their families, employers often see them as “less dedicated” or invested in their jobs. That could cause them to be passed over for a raise or promotion—and jeopardize their entire future career.

Women are already more likely to be paid less for their work and face discrimination in the workplace. Now, the inequities of remote work could set us back even further and make employers more likely to lay off or refuse to hire moms. In a time of unprecedented medical, political and economic crises, this devastating spiral could affect the future of women in the workforce for years to come.


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About

Katie Fleischer is a senior at Smith College, majoring in the Study of Women & Gender, and a former Ms. editorial intern.