Working Mothers More Burdened by Household Chores and Childcare during Lockdown

Mothers are more likely to have reduced work hours, lost jobs, and doing the bulk of childcare at home at the cost of paid work and there are fears that they will face career harm once the lockdown lifts.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many working couples to shift to work from home mode, and with schools closed and lockdowns in place, keeping things running smoothly has become a tough task for most.

Childcare, overseeing elder children’s lessons, housework and office responsibilities are things that need to be shared between the couples now. But how equal is the division is the question here.

Researchers from IFS and the UCL Institute of Education specially designed an online survey funded by the Nuffield Foundation, to study how 3,500 families with two opposite-gender parents were sharing paid work and domestic responsibilities. 

work from home working mothers

Working Mothers More Burdened During Lockdown

 The responses revealed that mothers in two-parent households are on average, doing a third of the uninterrupted paid-work hours of fathers. Before the lockdown, mothers did around 60% of the uninterrupted work hours of fathers. This sharp reduction in paid work time is bound to harm careers when the lockdown is lifted. And among working couples, the mother was more likely to be spending time taking care of the children as well as working at the same time. 

Working Mothers More Burdened During Lockdown

These kind of gender differences in interruptions and multitasking risk further increasing the gender wage gap among parents, feel researchers. Alison Andrew, a Senior Research Economist at IFS, said: “Mothers are more likely than fathers to have moved out of paid work since the start of lockdown. They have reduced their working hours more than fathers even if they are still working and they experience more interruptions while they work from home than fathers, particularly due to caring for children. Together these factors mean that mothers now are only doing a third of the uninterrupted paid-work hours that fathers are. A risk is that the lockdown leads to a further increase in the gender wage gap.”

The survey also found that mothers were more likely to have left paid work than fathers. Mothers who are still doing paid work have seen a substantial reduction in paid working hours compared to the fathers. Prior to the crisis, working mothers did paid work in 6.3 hours of a weekday on average; this has fallen by over one-fifth to 4.9 hours. Working fathers’ hours have also fallen, but by proportionally less, from 8.6 hours before the crisis to 7.2 hours now, says the study. 

The survey said the women mainly carried the burden of new responsibilities of childcare and housework. They are looking after children during an average of 10.3 hours of the day (2.3 hours more than fathers), and are doing housework during 1.7 more hours than fathers. 

According to the research, the fathers are not having it all easy. Their share of household chores and childcare has also increased. Fathers, on average, are now doing childcare nearly twice as many hours as in 2014–15. This means that fathers are now taking on a greater share of household responsibilities than they were before the crisis. 

Interestingly, the report also found that in families where the mother had kept the job and the father had lost his, the household chores were split fairly equally. In all other households, the mothers were doing the bulk of the household chores and child care activities.

 Lucy Kraftman, a Research Economist at IFS, said: 

“Mothers are doing, on average, more childcare and more housework than fathers who have the same work arrangements, be that not working, working from home or working outside the home. The only set of households where we see mothers and fathers sharing childcare and housework equally are those in which both parents were previously working but the father has now stopped working for pay while the mother is still in paid work. However, mothers in these households are doing paid work during an average of five hours a day in addition to doing the same amount of domestic work as their partner. The vast increase in the amount of childcare that mothers are doing under lockdown, which many are juggling alongside paid work, is likely to put a strain on their well-being.”

 The researchers hope that the pandemic lockdown brings about some realisation about the burden on working women and how the old gender roles still persist in households. Sonya Krutikova, a Deputy Research Director at IFS, said: ”Fathers, on average, are doing nearly double the hours of childcare they were doing prior to the crisis. This may bring about changes in the attitudes of fathers, mothers, children and employers about the role of fathers in meeting family needs for childcare and domestic work during the working week. It may serve as an impetus for a more equal sharing of childcare and housework between mothers and fathers after lockdown ends.”

Jane Harper
Writer. Human resources expert and consultant. Follow @thehrdigest on Twitter

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