This week’s post focuses on employment effects of pandemic-induced school closures, a topic covered previously in October and December posts. COVID-19 disruptions have created a difficult balancing act for working parents, and evidence shows that the challenges are particularly acute for mothers. Moreover, mothers facing other disadvantages and those simultaneously most affected by the health repercussions of the pandemic are also disproportionately affected by work disruptions. These findings suggest that there could be long-term implications for women’s work attachment, careers, and earnings, particularly the most affected mothers.
- A Pew Research Center report finds that the share of un-partnered moms at work fell more sharply than among other parents during the pandemic. In particular, between September 2019 and September 2020, the proportion of un-partnered mothers, with children under 18 at home, employed and at work dropped by nine percentage points, from 76% to 67%. That large dip was more than double the decrease for un-partnered fathers (four percentage points) and nearly double the decrease for partnered mothers and fathers (approximately five percentage points each). The Pew report also notes that among un-partnered mothers, declines in the share employed during this time period were more severe for those who are Black and Hispanic, and for those whose youngest child is five years old or younger. Black and Hispanic un-partnered mothers experienced a 10 percentage-point decline over this period, compared to a six percentage-point decline among white, un-partnered mothers. Among mothers of young children, the decrease in labor force participation was over 10 percentage points. For mothers of school-age children, the drop was still sizable, but shallower at roughly 8 percentage points.
- A recent study, summarized in a Minneapolis Fed article and published in a special COVID-related symposium of the Review of Economics of the Household, detects no immediate effects of closures on parents’ labor force attachment or employment, but important and disparate longer-term patterns. The researcher compares mothers and fathers in early shutdown states to those in late shutdown states. More specifically, she compares employment outcomes in those states that closed schools and adopted stay-at-home orders to outcomes in states with delayed or no COVID-related school closures. Concerns about other differences across such states are warranted, so the author also includes comparisons to 2019 employment metrics. She finds that working mothers in early closure states were much more likely than late closure state mothers to not be working, and notably, no effects on working fathers nor on working mothers without school-age children. She also shows that working mothers took work leaves and fathers working full-time decreased their house worked.
The growing body of evidence on how COVID and its associated school closures have affected parents, particularly mothers, and particularly disadvantaged mothers, documents substantial and potentially long-lasting, scarring effects on women’s work. Areas for responsive policy intervention may include facilitating or providing accessible, affordable, and dependable childcare, and providing work supports and training for mothers who would like to rejoin the workforce after disruptions.