Correction: Some of the numbers in this story were updated on Oct. 30 and Sept. 17 to reflect changes in the data due to a coding error. Changes are bold faced in the text and the first two graphics are updated.
The transition to online schooling and stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic required at least one adult in the home to focus on the children — helping them with schoolwork and supervising them all day.
While there was no immediate impact on detachment or unemployment, working mothers in states with early stay-at-home orders and school closures were 68.8% more likely to take leave from their jobs than working mothers in states where closures happened later, according to new research by the U.S. Census Bureau and Federal Reserve.
Of those not working, women ages 25-44 are almost three times as likely as men to not be working due to childcare demands.
While one study found that dads increased their childcare role during the pandemic, it also showed moms spent the most time in caring for children.
In the United States, around one in five (19.6%) of working-age adults said the reason they were not working was because COVID-19 disrupted their childcare arrangements (Figure 1).
Of those not working, women ages 25-44 are almost three times as likely as men to not be working due to childcare demands. About one in three (32.1%) of these women are not working because of childcare, compared to 12.1% of men in the same age group.
Parents who kept their jobs during the stay-at-home orders had limited options: to take paid or unpaid time off, quit or adjust work hours to nonbusiness hours such as evenings or weekends to care for children.
School closures and stay-at-home orders particularly affected working moms but had no immediate impact on fathers’ leave or leave of women without school-age children, according to the new study.
In addition, the experimental Household Pulse Survey started by the Census Bureau in response to COVID-19 has looked deeper into the dynamics of how working parents are balancing it all within their households and the unique anxiety they feel when caring for young children in this environment.
As the weeks wore on, the percent of mothers age 25 to 44 not working due to COVID-19 related childcare issues grew by 4.8 percentage points, compared to no increase for similar men (Figure 2).
Among working adults who did not have anyone in their household experience a loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 9.5% of those in households with children had low confidence in paying next month’s mortgage compared with 4.9% in households without children under age 18.
Among women, this difference was 10.2% and 6.3%, respectively.
Among these same working women, 22.8% of those in households with children had low confidence in their ability to afford food for the next four weeks compared with 16.7% of those without children in the household.
Working-age women in households with children were more anxious than men: 36.9% versus 30.0% reported being anxious more than half the days or nearly every day. These women also reported more worry: 32.3% compared with 25.3% of men.
Parents are among the unsung heroes of this crisis. They have adapted their households and juggled work, children’s schooling and other household needs.
However, the pandemic uniquely affected mothers’ work in formal labor markets.
As the nation moves forward in this crisis, research shows that particular attention will need to be paid to schooling and child care not just for the sake of the children but also for working moms.
Misty L. Heggeness is a principal economist and senior advisor for evaluations and experiments at the U.S. Census Bureau.
Jason M. Fields is a senior researcher for demographic programs at the U.S. Census Bureau.