A first-of-its-kind study of parents’ work arrangements during the pandemic shows that mothers working from home increased their supervisory parenting fully two hours more than fathers did, and women were also more likely to adapt their work schedules to new parenting demands.
The study used time diaries to examine how working parents managed school closures and childcare disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic – thought to be the first such use of that data.
“We found that women working from home shouldered more of the parenting burden during the pandemic,” said researcher Kelly Musick, professor of public policy and sociology and senior associate dean of research in the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy. “While the shift to work from home offered more flexibility, the lack of separation between work and family contributed to more challenging work environments, especially among mothers.”
An article detailing their findings, “Parents’ Work Arrangements and Gendered Time Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” published Dec. 9 in the Journal of Marriage and Family. Thomas Lyttelton of the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark was the lead author and Yale University sociologist Emma Zang and Musick were co-authors.
The researchers delved into data from the 2017–20 American Time Use Survey. A representative sample of Americans recorded their daily activities in detail, noting how long they spent on each task, where they were and who was present. Those records were then compared with how parents allotted their time prior to the pandemic, resulting in these key findings:
While the study focused on the pandemic, the findings have important implications for work and family in a post-pandemic world characterized by more remote work.
“The pandemic highlights a work culture unaccommodating of care demands and a policy infrastructure ill-equipped to support working parents,” Musick said. “Change is needed at both the public and private levels to better accommodate the health, productivity, and well-being of working families.”
Jim Hanchett is assistant dean for communications for the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy.