Mothers bear the costs associated with the epidemic and the transition to remote work

An incomparably greater part of the responsibilities falls on the shoulders of mothers who have started working remotely due to the epidemic, according to the latest study by sociologists from the University of Pennsylvania (USA).

An article on this topic appeared in Gender & Society (

Due to the epidemic, a large percentage of adults around the world have started to perform their professional duties remotely. At the same time, their children have switched to distance learning due to the school closures. This situation imposed a completely new approach to managing work, school, extracurricular and home activities. According to a new study by sociologists at the University of Pennsylvania, these additional burdens fall disproportionately on mothers’ shoulders.

The aim of the study was to determine how changes in work and school resulting from the pandemic affect the division of labor in families. Using data on two-parent households, the researchers found that the gender imbalance in unpaid domestic work was most pronounced when the mother was the only parent working remotely or when neither parent had the option to work remotely.

“It turns out that when a mother works remotely and her partner does not work, she has many other responsibilities,” says the professor. Jerry Jacobs, one of the article’s authors. When a father works remotely and his partner does not work, the situation is different: he does not do more homework. It is definitely gender.

As the scientist confirms, it is also impossible to ignore the fact that due to the new situation, a large proportion of women (hundreds of thousands every month) have lost their jobs or have had to give them up to fulfill new responsibilities at home.

“It appears that telecommuting will create greater potential for gender equality in housework, because the parents are always at home and have the same availability,” the authors say. But is it really so?

The researchers analyzed data collected from 2,200 respondents: 478 of them were parents who lived in relationships and 151 were single parents (the rest were childless).

While the gender of each respondent’s partner is unknown, the gender of the respondents themselves played a major role in how the pandemic affected their home responsibilities, which increased in all cases when they had children.

The analysis showed that families in which both partners worked remotely had a more balanced division of household and parenting responsibilities. Both parents reported a similar increase in household responsibilities and childcare, as well as a similar degree of pressure they felt in running their children’s school.

“However, even the best-case scenarios were imbued with gender inequality because they followed typical patterns of the previous pandemic,” the authors say. “So the distant mothers were responsible for most of the housework and childcare.”

A more difficult situation arose when one parent was working remotely and the other away from home. The gender imbalance in housework was more pronounced here. The home-working moms took on almost all of the extra work, while remote-worked parents reported that they were much less interested in the extra housework and childcare.

“These differences were so great that we, seasoned social scientists, were surprised,” admits the professor. Jacobs.

Scientists have also been interested in the fact that when fathers work from home in the company of their mothers (also remotely), they approach sharing housework with them completely differently than if they were alone at home. In the former, it allows for a more equitable division of labor than in the latter. In short: They are more likely to engage in their partner’s presence.

There is another model in which neither parent can work remotely. Here, mothers have borne the entire burden of overtime. In the case of such husbands, mothers reported double the amount of time fathers spent on housework compared to fathers, often seven times indicating that they were responsible for the majority of the children’s educational activities.

The study took place about a month after the outbreak began, so scientists can only speculate about the continuing impact of the global situation on the gender division of labor. However, based on this preliminary data, there is pressure that may lead to some women leaving the job market. “As children return to school, this pressure will ease. But the long-term impact of the epidemic on women’s seniority and loss of wages can be significant and permanent,” Jacobs concludes. (PAP)

Author: Katarzyna Czechowicz

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