A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania explored the unique ways that mothers’ lives have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their findings showed that the switch to remote work has led many women to take on even more responsibilities around the home; the same wasn’t true of fathers who worked from home.
“It turns out that when a mother is working remotely and her partner isn’t, she ends up taking on a ton more responsibilities,” said researcher Jerry Jacobs. “When a father is working remotely and his partner isn’t, somehow he doesn’t take on as much extra work. This seems to be a deeply gendered issue.”
Dividing domestic duties isn’t always fair
To determine how mothers and fathers divided household responsibilities in the early days of the pandemic, the researchers analyzed data from 2,200 people who participated in a New York Times survey last April. Respondents answered questions about their working situations and how they split up domestic duties with their partners, including remote schooling, household chores, and child care.
Having a higher demand for childcare responsibilities was consistent among all the participants; this is to be expected considering that this survey was conducted one month into the COVID-19 pandemic when schools had shifted to remote learning. However, when breaking down the results based on which partners were able to work from home, the researchers noticed a trend emerging among mothers’ and fathers’ household responsibilities.
Across the board, mothers reported a significant increase in both household chores and child care responsibilities during the pandemic. This was true for mothers who were the remote workers in their partnerships, for mothers who left the house for work each day, and in situations where both partners worked outside of the home.
“The disparity, how this affected remote dads versus remote moms, was just so stark,” said Jacobs. “Even for a hard-boiled, data-driven sociologist like me, I was surprised.”
When both mothers and fathers weren’t able to work from home, mothers were seven times more likely to carry the brunt of the responsibility for child care and remote learning. When fathers were the sole parent working from home, their household duties remained the same; however, women reported picking up more of the responsibilities in this situation. Fathers were more likely to pitch in when both partners worked from home, but women still carried the majority of the domestic duties.
Single parents fared similarly
The researchers found that a similar trend emerged among single parents who participated in the survey. While this group of mothers was better able to divide up remote schooling responsibilities, more of the general child care responsibilities fell to single mothers as opposed to single fathers.
Because this survey was conducted at the beginning of the pandemic, the researchers hope that recent changes to school protocols have changed parenting dynamics for the better. However, it’s important for consumers to understand how the domestic burden has primarily been mothers’ to carry over this last year of the pandemic.