The puzzle. The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in an unprecedented shift to remote work, with 55 percent of currently employed parents working from home in April/May 2020. At least some of the pandemic-related shift to telecommuting is likely to persist for some time, with companies like Facebook moving to permanent remote work for many workers. What does this mean for the perennial issue of work-family conflict, and additionally, what are the implications of expanded telecommuting arrangements for gender equality at work and in the households of parents with children?

On the one hand, telecommuting can ease work-family conflict by giving workers greater control over their schedules. Mothers of young children particularly value telecommuting, and flexible work has been linked to higher rates of maternal employment. Although mothers still do a great deal more housework and childcare than fathers, the amount of childcare done by fathers has increased almost threefold since the 1970s, and in 2019 fathers, on average, spent 55 minutes per day caring for children. Fathers also report that they would like to be spending more time with their children, so working from home could be a way for fathers to increase their share of housework and childcare. For many working couples, then, telecommuting may be an attractive and egalitarian strategy for managing the competing demands of work and family.

On the other hand, telecommuting can worsen rather than ameliorate gender inequalities in the home and in the labor market. Workplaces provide a barrier, both physical and psychological, between parents and demands to do additional childcare and housework. Social pressures to spend intensive time on child-rearing and on housework are much stronger for mothers than fathers, and once the separation from home life provided by workplaces is removed, this may lead mothers to increase the amount of household labor they do by more than fathers.

Early indications of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on gender inequality have been contradictory, with different surveys suggesting that gender gaps in household labor have either narrowed or widened, depending on whether the researchers focused on housework and childcare alone or included home schooling.

The data. We examine the links between telecommuting and gender inequality with data collected before and during the COVID-19 crisis: the 2003-2018 American Time Use Survey (ATUS, = 19,179) and the April and May 2020 COVID Impact Survey (N= 784). This allows us to report on gender differences in parents’ household labor and work contexts for parents working in the workplace, at home, and splitting their time between the two before the pandemic, as well as to assess the impact of telecommuting that was a direct response to the pandemic and has been taking place in the context of schools and child-care centers being shut down. We also use a subsample of regular telecommuters in ATUS (N = 339) to compare the behavior of mothers and fathers on days in the workplace and days working from home. The parents in this sample tend to be more similar in their work-related characteristics relative to a broader group that includes those who never work from home.

The results for pre-COVID-19 childcare: Telecommuting dads catch up with moms. In general, telecommuting parents put more time into household labor than do parents who work at a separate location. But prior to COVID-19, we found an interesting gender difference in what types of household labor individuals did more of when working from home, and this produced two diverging patterns in the division of total household labor. Under ordinary circumstances, telecommuting fathers increase the amount of childcare they do more than do telecommuting mothers. Looking at a subsample of mothers and fathers who all reported telecommuting some days for their job, we find that dads spent 67 more minutes caring for children on the days they worked exclusively from home than on the days they worked exclusively from the workplace. This increase in childcare time was 47 minutes larger than the average increase in childcare we find on days when mothers worked from home, and it appears to effectively close the gender gap in childcare hours (see Figure 1). By contrast, gender gaps in childcare were substantial for workers who mix their time at home and the office or who work only from the office. These results suggest that telecommuting can bring fathers closer to parity with mothers when it comes to childcare.

The results for pre-COVID-19 housework: Telecommuting moms, but not dads, do more. But for housework the opposite is true. Comparing mothers and fathers in the same sample as above, we find that on the days mothers worked from home, they increased their housework by 49 minutes. Fathers did no more housework on days when they worked from home than on days when they were absent from home while working. So when it comes to the division of housework, unlike the division of childcare, telecommuting may be associated with increased gender inequality.

The results for pre-COVID-19 work-family conflict: Children spend more than twice as much time in the presence of telecommuting moms when the moms are working than they do with dads. The issue is further complicated by the fact that people who work at home are sometimes in the presence of children even when they are not doing childcare but are working – or trying to work. This creates spillovers from the parental role into the employee role. When people are forced to juggle their attention between children and work, they experience a form of work-family conflict that is absent in work settings separate from the home – one that leaves parents unable to give either work or home life their full attention. This conflict is far more intense for telecommuting women than for their male counterparts.

In general, parents working from home report that their children are with them while they work far more than do parents in the workplace. But while telecommuting fathers reported children as present during work for 21 minutes per day, on average, on days they worked from home, mothers reported children present during work for 54 minutes per day, leaving a gender gap of 27 minutes (Figure 1). That this kind of work-family conflict disproportionately affects mothers may have downstream consequences for labor market gender inequalities, as the quality or productivity of working time may be lower for telecommuting mothers than fathers.

Figure 1: Gender Gaps in Household Labor by Work Location among Ever-Telecommuters

Why do moms do more? Our research doesn’t tell us why, exactly, telecommuting mothers do so much more housework. But we know that women often hold much stricter standards than men about the amount of laundering and daily cleaning that has to be done. While these may be “choices” made by the mother or the couple, they are often choices constrained by the tremendous pressures that women – especially married women – feel to “keep up appearances” in the home. Women also tend to feel much more pressure than men to live up to the ideals of intensive parenting. Whatever the reasons that telecommuting mothers spent more time on housework and were more likely to be interrupted by children while trying to work, the consequences seemed to counteract many of the advantages of telecommuting. Comparing the wellbeing of mothers working from home and a separate workplace before COVID-19, we find little evidence that telecommuting resolved work-family conflict: Telecommuting mothers were no happier, and no less stressed or tired, than mothers working from a workplace.

Implications? Assessing the implications of telecommuting for gender equality is especially complicated in the United States, where government support for working families is far less generous than that provided by other rich countries. Most localities do not provide free or subsidized childcare, and its unsubsidized cost is prohibitive for many families. In this context, telecommuting is a choice many parents make to solve a childcare problem. It may be the best choice in the circumstance, but it should be no surprise that making such a choice involves work-related tradeoffs, and that, given parenting norms, these tradeoffs are more severe for women. As an example, using a simple approach that assigns median earnings to average changes in work hours associated with housework, we estimate that the potential annual earnings mothers lose by devoting extra time to housework instead of wage-work is $660 for mothers who telecommute one day a week, and $2638 for mothers who telecommute four days a week.

These patterns suggest that even under circumstances where telecommuting is not a substitute for childcare or full-time school, it poses some threats to the long-term progress of gender equality, at least when engaged in by women. Given the intense socialization of women into not being able to ignore perceived demands of children and dust bunnies alike — and the outright shaming they often experience when they do ignore them — there may be some benefits to working outside the home for women. By contrast, given their socialization to be able to ignore the demands of children, there may be some benefits to working inside the home for men.

The results on working at home during the pandemic. The conditions of telecommuting imposed by COVID-19 are especially likely to increase gender inequalities in household labor and the labor market. The closure of schools and childcare facilities greatly increases childcare burdens on parents, with telecommuters now expected to educate their children alongside doing their day jobs, a job that has so far fallen most heavily on women. Overall, parents in the workplace report less depression than telecommuting parents. But the extra stress for telecommuting women is striking. Mothers telecommuting during April – May 2020 reported feeling anxious, depressed, and lonely at significantly higher rates than telecommuting fathers, who unlike actually mothers experienced less anxiety when working from home. For parents in the workplace, we found no statistically significant gender differences in rates of stress and depression (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Subjective Well-Being During COVID-19 by Gender and Work Location

Implications, taking COVID-19 into account. Our findings on telecommuting both before and during the pandemic point to families’ –and society’s– urgent need for more government support for parents. Telecommuting has real benefits. It gives parents greater flexibility to structure their work, saves time commuting, and allows parents to spend more time with their children. And given COVID-19, telecommuting is surely the best option for parents at the moment. But when parents have to combine working from home with looking after children, it is easy for telecommuting to exacerbate gender inequalities in both formal and informal work. Even with fathers doing more, telecommuting with children detracts from mothers’ work environments and is associated with more stress. Subsidizing childcare, and, where possible, reopening schools in the fall would greatly reduce this tension. But until science suggests it is safe to do so, employers must be urged to rethink traditional measures of productivity and recognize the need for men as well as women to make the work adjustments they need to as they strive to cope with these unprecedented demands on their time and energy.



Childcare Measures

In our paper, we construct two different measures of parents looking after children. First, we create a measure of childcare that combines basic care activities of younger children (e.g., feeding, bathing) with activities relating to education (e.g., helping with a child’s homework or attending a PTA meeting) and health (e.g., sitting with a sick child) and associated travel of all children under 18. This measure captures time spent explicitly caring for children. Second, we construct a broader measure of all time parents spend with household children when they are actually doing tasks other than childcare. This broader measure captures time during which parents may be splitting their attention between looking after children and another activity. We use this measure to analyze the presence of children while parents are working. In our full paper, we also look at gendered differences in time with children by telecommuting, and we find results that are similar to our reported estimates of childcare (see paper Table 2).

Couple-level Dynamics and Same-Sex Partners

The American Time Use Survey collects information on all members of a household, including couples, but only records time use data, including childcare and housework, for one person per household. This means that we can examine how telecommuting parents’ behaviors differ based on their partners’ employment, and we find that telecommuting fathers particularly increase the amount of childcare they do when their partners work full time (more than 35 hours per week). But we do not have information on partners’ telecommuting, and thus cannot assess how parents react to their partner’s telecommuting. The number of telecommuters in our descriptive sample (788 parents telecommuting for full days) also prevents us from examining same-sex couples. Without such narrowly prescribed gender roles to fall back on, same-sex couples divide childcare and housework tasks more fairly than opposite-sex couples, and so we would expect their reaction to telecommuting to also differ. This could be a fruitful avenue for future research.

Thomas Lyttelton is PhD candidate in Sociology at Yale. Contact him at . Emma Zang is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Yale; contact her at
Kelly Musick is Professor and Chair of Cornell Policy Analysis and Management and can be reached at 

Brief report:
Press release:


For the past 30 years the gender revolution has proceeded at a snail’s pace. Some argue it has actually stalledRelationship quality and stability now appear greatest when heterosexual partners are equals, and some evidence shows that couples are increasingly likely to share domestic labor. Yet the proportion of couples who achieve egalitarian arrangements remains low relative to the proportion of adults who value gender equality. And now, as the COVID-19 pandemic rages, some fear the gains of the gender revolution will be erased. Recent surveys commissioned by the New York Times and USA Today appear to confirm such fears, suggesting that during the pandemic women continue to shoulder the majority of housework and childcare, and now also do the majority of homeschooling too, despite men’s claims to the contrary.

A focus on homeschooling as an emergent and pressing issue is understandable, given the way this task may exacerbate inequalities at home. But how partners divide the responsibilities for educating their children during the pandemic may tell us little about the future of gender equality once the pandemic ends, since homeschooling is temporary for most parents. When we examine trends in the division of those housework and childcare tasks that have been in the process of renegotiation for decades, the patterns provide evidence of more egalitarian progress.

A glass half full or half empty? Most women still do more at home than men, but many men are doing more than before the pandemic — and very few (if any) are doing less

Our survey[i], an online non-probability sample of parents (n = 1,060) in different-sex couples, conducted in mid-April, assessed divisions of labor during the pandemic and compared them to how couples divided labor before it began. Our results[ii] suggest a more hopeful scenario than those implied by the headlines: According to both men and women, men are doing more housework and childcare during the pandemic than before it began, leading to more equal sharing of domestic labor. Moreover, given the conditions under which men are doing more, there is potential that these changes may persist after the pandemic ends.

Though homeschooling falls largely on the shoulders of women, our results indicate that for the majority of men and women (approximately 60 percent), time in domestic labor has not changed since the beginning of the pandemic, even accounting for helping children with homework. This is because time in some tasks like transporting children, attending children’s events, organizing children’s schedules/activities, and grocery shopping (for women, at least) have declined dramatically or stopped altogether.

Men and women differ in their reports of who does more domestic work; the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.

One of the most provocative findings in the NYT and USA Today surveys is the discrepancy between men’s and women’s reports of who is doing what in the household. For example, in the NYT story, 80 percent of women report doing the majority of homeschooling right now. Yet 45 percent of men also claim to be doing most of the schooling, while only three percent of women report their male partners as the primary educator. Like the Times, we find that most women (70 percent) report being primarily responsible for homeschooling during the pandemic, but we find a much smaller gender gap in men’s and women’s assessments of men’s responsibilities for schooling: 20 percent of men say they are doing the online educating while three percent of women say their male partners are largely responsible. Discrepancies between the estimates in the two studies may be the result of sampling variation or differences in question wording – the NYT asked about homeschooling children or helping with distance learning – that may influence responses.

Men and women also differ in their reports of how much housework and childcare each is doing, although the differences are not as large as over the homeschooling question. The NYT story suggests that men’s estimates are more accurate than women’s. But it is not at all clear that men exaggerate their time use more than women in surveys or fail to notice their partners’ time use more than women do (Bianchi et al. 2000; Kamo 2000; Lee and Waite 2005; Yavorksy, Kamp-Dush, and Schoppe-Sullivan 2015). In an appendix to this report, we discuss why we use both men’s and women’s reports to construct estimates of the division of domestic labor during the COVID-19 pandemic – an approach we argue is ultimately conservative. Nonetheless, even if we rely only on women’s reports, the story from our data on how the pandemic has changed domestic labor is the same: Men are doing more housework and childcare since the pandemic began, and this has led to an increase in egalitarian domestic arrangements.

When we focus on the housework and childcare tasks that couples were dividing before the pandemic, we find that among couples where the division of tasks has changed, it has changed in an egalitarian direction. Indeed, in no situation — and in no type of family, whether dual-earner where both are working full-time, dual-earner where someone is working part-time, single earner, or both unemployed — did we find that the division of tasks became less likely to be shared.

Considering both men’s and women’s reports, we see that prior to the start of the pandemic, 26 percent of parents reported sharing routine housework[iii] relatively equally[iv] with their partner, 41 percent reported sharing care for young children[v] relatively equally – although physical childcare and the mental load of organizing children’s lives were by and large mother’s responsibilities — and 45 percent reported sharing care of older children[vi]. A little more than a month after the start of the pandemic, 41 percent of parents reported sharing housework with their partners – a significant 58 percent increase — while the percentage of partnered parents reporting equal sharing care of young and older children also increased significantly, to 52 percent and 56 percent respectively. The proportion sharing in the care of young and older children grew by 27 and 24 percent respectively, driven by increases in equal sharing of physical care, monitoring, reading, and organizing children’s activities.

We find similar evidence of change when we restrict analyses to women’s reports only. Only one-in-six women (16 percent) reported sharing housework with their partners prior to the pandemic, compared with more than one-in-four (27 percent) who reported sharing it during the pandemic. As for childcare, 28 percent of women reported sharing care of young children relatively equally prior to the pandemic while 34 percent reported sharing it equally during. For older children, women’s reports of equal sharing grew from 29 percent to 42 percent.


The increase in egalitarian arrangements is largely the product of men’s doing more. Forty-two percent of fathers reported an overall increase in housework time, 45 percent reported more time in the care of young children overall, and 43 percent reported more total care of older children. Many mothers also reported that their partners increased their total time in housework (25 percent), care of young children (34 percent), and care of older children (20 percent). Nonetheless, mothers are significantly less likely than fathers to report that fathers have increased their time in housework or childcare. Men and women who report that fathers increased their time in housework and childcare also widely report that they were sharing housework (69 percent) and childcare (76 percent) responsibilities equally with their partner during the pandemic or that the men were doing the majority.

Consistent with past research (Kamo 2000; Lee and Waite 2005), though men and women disagree on men’s time, there was no such disagreement regarding mother’s time. More than one-quarter of both fathers and mothers reported an increase in mothers’ time in housework and childcare. The women most likely to increase their time in childcare and housework were the ones who were already responsible for the majority of such work before the pandemic. Parents also agree that between 11-16 percent of mothers and 6-8 percent of fathers decreased their overall time in domestic work. This might be because some tasks are just currently obsolete.


We still don’t have an egalitarian utopia

Families are sharing domestic labor more equally since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. That is not to say, however, that the pandemic has created an egalitarian utopia in households. Indeed, although conventionally gendered divisions of housework and childcare have become less common since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many mothers continue to find themselves in these arrangements. Of the mothers who continued to be primarily responsible for domestic work during the COVID-19 pandemic, roughly one-third increased their time spent in housework and care of children during the pandemic. Moreover, 70 percent are also solely responsible for educating their children. Consequently, among families that have not moved toward more egalitarianism, domestic work for mothers has become even more time-intensive.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every aspect of Americans’ daily lives. Stay-at-home orders in nearly every state, along with the closure of schools, childcare centers, and non-essential businesses, have placed immense strain on families, suspending important care supports and demolishing barriers between work and family roles. Our findings demonstrate that the COVID-19 pandemic has both exacerbated and reduced gender inequalities in the division of domestic labor. For women who continued to shoulder domestic work during the pandemic, housework and childcare responsibilities have become much more arduous. Not only are these women spending more time in classic tasks, but homeschooling has also been added to their plates. Nonetheless, though roughly half of women are doing most of the housework and childcare right now, according to our estimates another half of women are not. Among a sizeable number of families, the burden of domestic responsibilities has become more equal as fathers have increased their contributions to housework and childcare.

Will the trend towards egalitarianism last beyond the crisis?

A central question is whether fathers will continue their domestic contributions once the pandemic passes. The signs, we think, are encouraging. Research shows that many couples fail to craft egalitarian divisions of household labor in part due to unsupportive workplace-family policies (Pedulla and Thébaud 2015). The COVID-19 pandemic has eliminated some of the structural barriers to sharing domestic work – particularly for men – since many adults are now working from home. The pandemic has demonstrated that many jobs can be done remotely. To the extent such arrangements increase, this may create greater egalitarianism, because recent evidence from before the pandemic shows that men who work from home share more equally in domestic labor (Carlson, Petts, and Pepin 2020). However, whether men and women will continue to have schedule flexibility or the ability to work from home as employers re-open is unknown.

Nonetheless, just the experience of having heightened responsibilities for housework and childcare during this time bodes well for men’s continued involvement in housework and childcare. As research on paternity leave demonstrates, men who take leave, especially extensive leave (e.g., two months), continue their involvement in housework and childcare over the long-term even after returning to work (Petts and Knoester 2018; Bünning 2015). The longer the pandemic lasts, the more hardships most of us will experience. But perhaps in the aftermath the patterns of domestic involvement men are establishing now will become a new normal.


Daniel L. Carlson / Associate Professor / Department of Family and Consumer Studies / University of Utah /

Richard J. Petts / Professor / Department of Sociology / Ball State University /

Joanna Pepin / Postdoctoral Fellow / Population Research Center / University of Texas – Austin /

While gender inequalities between women and men who do not have children are narrowing if not disappearing, the economic gap between mothers and fathers remains large and shows little sign of closing. Quite a bit of attention has been paid in the popular and scholarly press to the “motherhood penalty,” or earnings losses associated with becoming a mother. In the US, women’s earnings drop by 30% when they become mothers.

Until recently, relatively little attention has been paid to how these motherhood penalties translate into inequalities between partners, or within couples. Most studies on the motherhood penalty compare earnings between mothers and fathers as separate groups, and less is known about the impact of the motherhood penalty at the couple level. Moving to a focus on couples is important because it highlights how couples strategize about time and money following parenthood and how gender inequalities reproduce at the couple level.

Our study uses data on heterosexual couples from the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom to study how parenthood shapes gender inequalities at the couple level. We use longitudinal data, which means that we can follow the same couples over many years. We select a group of couples who are observed making the transition to parenthood during the survey, so that we can observe couples’ earnings when they do not have a child and follow them as they become parents and up to eight years after the transition to parenthood. To measure gender inequality at the couple level we use women’s share of couple earnings (e.g., 0% indicates that the male partner is the sole earner, 50% indicates equality in earnings, and 100% indicates that the female is the sole earner). Using this measure, our study asks: how do women’s share of couple earnings change after couples transition to parenthood?

Our results show that it changes a lot.

We find that parenthood results in large and enduring increases in gender inequalities within couples in all three countries. In the US, women’s share of couple earnings drops 8 percentage points, from about 40% to 32%; this decline is larger in the United Kingdom (12 percentage points) and largest in Germany (28 percentage points). Importantly, these declines in women’s share of couple earnings are not short-lived, on the contrary, they appear to persist over time. Following couples to the end of our study period, eight years following parenthood, we continue to see evidence of post-birth earnings losses in her relative earnings. Overall, these relative losses amount to large and substantial long-term declines in women’s economic power within couples.

Because we analyze couples across countries, our study is also able to assess how different work-family policies and cultural contexts shape how gender inequalities at the couple-level evolve with parenthood.

Figure 1. Predicted Change in Her Share of Couple Earnings, by Country

The relatively larger decline in women’s share of couple earnings in Germany compared to the US and the UK is in line with expectations stemming from Germany’s historical (albeit evolving) policy emphasis on and public acceptance of men’s breadwinner role, including long maternity leaves and a lack of childcare options prior to kindergarten. The relatively smaller declines in women’s share of couples’ earnings with parenthood in the US and the UK reflect a policy environment where care is seen as a private family responsibility and the dual-earner family model is more widespread.

Changes in women’s share of couple earnings can result from various processes. For example, it is possible that both men and women reduce work commitments with a newborn, but that women’s reductions are greater than men’s. It is also possible that women remain employed but change jobs that pay less and result in a decline in her share of earnings. Our evidence suggests neither of these patterns.

Instead, our results show that in all three countries women’s share of couple earnings declines largely because women reduce employment and work hours, while men change neither. Our analyses show no evidence that men’s employment changes over the transition to parenthood, whereas women’s employment drops by almost 20 percentage points in the US and nearly 40 percentage points in Germany. Changes in women’s work hours are similarly large and have a significant impact on women’s share of couple earnings, while changes in women’s wages are smaller and do not contribute as much to changes in her earnings share.

When we broke down the analysis by whether or not the mother had a college degree, we found additional and important differences across the three countries. In Germany and the UK, the declines in women’s share of couple earnings are smaller among couples with a college-educated mother than those with a less-educated mother. This pattern is consistent with the expectation that women’s employment trajectories respond to their earnings potential and that women who have the most to lose from dropping out of the labor force are the most likely to remain employed after they become mothers.

In the US, however, we find the opposite, that declines in women’s share of couple earnings are relatively larger among couples with a college-educated versus less-educated mother. The difference between the two groups is not very large, but the pattern is distinct in substantive and meaningful ways, especially from what we see in Germany.

The fact that increases in gender inequality within couples in the US are smaller among the less-educated is consistent with the idea that a weak welfare and work-family policy environment puts couples under distinctive economic pressures. At the low end of the education distribution, US couples are less buffered by resources to manage work and family demands, in terms of their own earnings to purchase childcare and other services, but also in their ability to rely solely on one partner’s earnings to make ends meet. They face strong financial pressure to remain attached to the labor market following birth. At the high end, long and inflexible hours in professional jobs make it difficult for college-educated to maintain dual-earner families, and reliance on one income may prove a more viable option for some.

On the whole our analyses show that: 1) parenthood results in substantial and long-term increases in gender inequality within couples, 2) these increases result from changes in women’s work patterns following parenthood, not men’s, and 3) policy and cultural contexts shape how couples strategize time and money after parenthood. Together, these findings highlight how the transition to parenthood can deepen inequalities within couples as they navigate this new stage of their family life. Importantly, the gendered earnings disparities that emerge may negatively impact other domains of family life, including power dynamics between partners, household decision-making, and mothers’ economic independence. Although income gaps between women and men without children may be closing, our study illuminates how the transition to parenthood produces persistent income gaps within couples.

Pilar Gonalons-Pons is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.  Kelly Musick is a Professor and Department Chair of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University.  Megan Doherty Bea is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Consumer Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Image by klimkin from Pixabay

Reprinted from the Chicago Tribune.

We are facing so many crises all at the same time. Covid-19 infections rates are again rising statewide, a pandemic of racial oppression has spawned an uprising in our city as well as around the Globe, and sky high unemployment rates threaten the stability of Illinois families. Our most immediate crisis is what to do with the kids this fall. Chicago Public Schools are starting the year online entirely, perhaps offering a hybrid model in the next quarter. Can this really work? For children? For their parents?

How’s a parent to keep their own job with children at home as much as they are in school?  Parents lucky enough to still be employed are literally at their wits end trying to figure out how to keep their own jobs while becoming their children’s teachers. Research shows some mothers are already reducing their hours in the labor force.

You simply cannot be both a worker and a full-time parent teacher at the same moment.

We need the option for children to learn at home, without disrupting their parent’s employment. Let’s hire some of those unemployed workers to be “learning pod” supervisors for children in small groups in their own homes. All kids need supervision to learn at home, not just those whose parents can afford the time or money.

Middle class parents are already exploring the option of “learning pods” for their children’s home schooling. A “learning pod” can be several families who gather their children together taking turns supervising online education. For wealthier families, a pod might mean hiring someone to supervise (or even teach) children so that the parents can meet their work responsibilities. So what’s the catch?

Given the differential percentage of white, Black and Latinx children whose parents can create learning pods, their very existence for some but not all of America’s children will increase racial inequality. The children of bus drivers, grocery store clerks, and janitors will not benefit from pods. The children who will benefit are those of middle-class workers who can share the pod parent duty, or those wealthy enough to hire someone else to do it.

A problem with roots in systemic racial inequality cannot have a solution in the individual choice of parents.

If schools are closed, we need home-based alternatives. In an analysis my colleagues and I did for the New York Times, we found evidence that it is mothers who are doing the vast majority of home-schooling. Some estimates are that it may take a generation for women to regain the level of  gender (in)equality we have in 2020 as women are pushed out of the labor force because their children are not going to school.

I propose a child care infrastructure to be a new work progress administration (WPA). The New Deal WPA put unemployed Americans back to work during the Great Depression building roads, and other infrastructure. This 21st Century WPA should build an infrastructure of care starting by matching unemployed people with families in their own communities, and employ them as “pod supervisors.” Teachers could have direct communication with all the Pod supervisors for their students. In the absence of open schools, “learning pods” could work for our entire community, not just for the middle-class primarily white parents who can spend the time to host it or have the money to  pay for it.

The federal government should fund the WPA again. Unfortunately, the federal government has shown itself too dysfunctional to manage any federal response to the pandemic. And so if it does not, it falls to the states, or even the cities to do so. Are you listening Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot? The organization and hiring  has to be done at the local level. We aren’t going to find people with any kind of certification for these jobs, as they must start so quickly. These “pod supervisors” are to help  children do their online work, assigned and assessed by teachers.

The WPA is the only way to move forward quickly educating students, without risking increasing infection rates. This solution does not increase gender inequality by pushing mothers out of the labor nor increase racial achievement gaps by privatizing the supervision of online schooling. There are problems that will need to be worked out, but we must move quickly. So far the United States of America has totally mismanaged this health crises, now is our chance to find an innovative solution for children without contributing to racial and gender inequality. We can do it America. Let’s fund a new care taking WPA.

Barbara J. Risman, Ph.D., is a sociology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of Where The Millennials Will Take Us: A New Generation Wrestles with the Gender Structure.  

As summer comes to an end and professors plan their fall schedules, this week we are featuring a roundup of posts from this blog on Covid-19 and families that can be shared in the classroom. These pieces cover research on a range of issues, and are written to be accessible to students and the general public.

Covid-19 and Romantic Relationships

Covid-19 and the Gendered Division of Paid and Unpaid Work

Covid-19 and Children

Covid-19 and Family Ties

Arielle Kuperberg is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and is the editor of this blog. Follow her on twitter to get updates about new blog posts @ATKuperberg or contact her directly at

In mid-March 2020, schools across the United States shuttered their doors. Kids were sent home and parents were expected to figure out how to work, supervise learning, and take on added caregiving and housework simultaneously. It’s no wonder parents are exhausted.

Initial hopes that schools would return to normal following summer break are now very much in question as rates of COVID-19 reached all-time highs just weeks before the anticipated start of public schools. Many school districts, including some of the largest in the country, have already made decisions to go fully remote in the fall. For working families in these districts, parents will once again juggle the competing demands of homeschooling and job responsibilities—all this as childcare centers are closed or operating on limited capacity and extended family care is limited to reduce the risk of exposure. We know that mothers already took on a larger share of childcare than fathers before the pandemic. Under these new conditions, it’s not surprising then that mothers’ employment has taken a serious hit.

A Work Crisis For Mothers

In a recently published study in Socius, we used data from the Current Population Survey to estimate just how much recent pandemic-related changes to family life have affected women’s and men’s employment outcomes. We compared a number of labor force estimates between February and April 2020, examining the period of time prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. to the height of the first wave when stay-at-home orders were issued across the country. We show that since February, labor force participation has dropped among mothers of younger children, while unemployment has risen dramatically. Mothers are also scaling back work hours among those with more flexibility to do so.

Data: Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) Current Population Survey February and April 2020
Source: Liana Christin Landivar, Leah Ruppanner, William J. Scarborough, and Caitlyn Collins. 2020. “Early Signs Indicate COVID-19 is Exacerbating Gender Inequality in the Labor Force.” Socius 6:1-3. DOI:

Among married women employed in February, the labor force participation rate dropped by 4.3 percentage points by April, falling from 75.7% to 71.4%, for those with children ages 6 to 12. These children likely require more caregiving and remote learning supervision than teenagers. Labor force participation also fell among mothers of the youngest children (ages 1-5), declining by 3.2 percentage points. In all, nearly 250,000 more mothers than fathers with children under 13 left the labor force between February and April. Unemployment, up across the board, increased the most among childless women (11.6 percentage points) and mothers of young school-agers (11.0 percentage points), resulting in an April unemployment rate of 13.6% and 13.1%, respectively.

In another new study in Gender, Work & Organization, we show that mothers scaled back on work hours four to five times more than fathers over the same time period. Married mothers’ work hours declined by nearly two hours per week. Declines in hours worked were slightly larger among mothers of children ages 1-5 where both parents worked in occupations that allowed for teleworking. Most fathers’ reductions in hours worked were statistically insignificant. As a result, the gender gap in hours worked increased by 25% among all married, heterosexual couples and up to 50% among couples in occupations that allow telecommuting. This is a staggering reduction in work hours for mothers, leading to a dramatic increase in the gender gap in work hours over a short period of time.

Policy Suggestions to Support Mothers’ Employment

The uncertainty of how long remote learning will continue and the lack of federal provisions to facilitate employment or help parents retain job attachment (e.g., though paid caregiving leave) may result in serious long-term effects for mothers’ employment who will be more likely to leave the labor force. Research shows that stepping out of the labor force for family reasons is stigmatized by many employers. As a result, mothers who leave work now may face barriers to re-entry later on. Reductions in employment as a result of the pandemic are likely to be steeper among Black and Latina mothers who are more likely to have to work onsite making simultaneous caregiving impossible in most instances, work in industries facing more significant disruptions, and are less likely to have flexible work options or paid leave.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provided limited caregiving leave of up to 12 weeks for families who experienced school or childcare closures. However, the FFCRA exemptions by employer size and sector left millions of working parents without coverage. Removing the exclusions and expanding the amount of caregiving leave offered, as parents must now cover a new school year at home, would help parents retain attachment to an employer while taking leave to provide care or remote learning assistance to their children. Shoring up the childcare infrastructure—already weak in the United States—will be critical as childcare centers operate on slim margins and capacity restrictions may push many out of business. We have shown that subsidized childcare was critical to states’ economic recovery following the previous recession. Given the extreme pressure on families, we believe these resources are even more critical during this recession. Prioritizing the reopening of elementary schools would help families as children of this age have more intense childcare needs and are least able to learn effectively remotely. Finally, employers will need to continue to provide maximum flexibility to avoid significant turnover and loss of workers with caregiving responsibilities. Without proper supports, mothers’ employment may continue to drop, with lasting harmful effects to families’ economic security, gender and racial inequality, and national economic prosperity.

Liana Christin Landivar is a sociologist and a faculty affiliate at the Maryland Population Research Center, and is the author of Mothers at Work: Who Opts Out?. Follow her on twitter at @lclandivar. Leah Ruppanner is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of The Policy Lab at the University of Melbourne and author of Motherlands: How U.S. States Push Mothers Out of Employment. Follow her on twitter @LeahRuppanner. William Scarborough is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Texas. Follow him on twitter @BuddyScarboro. Caitlyn Collins is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Washington University in St. Louis and author of Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving. Follow her on twitter @CaitlynMCollins

Although children appear to be less vulnerable than adults to serious COVID-19 medical complications, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that they are disproportionately endangered by the pandemic’s economic toll. Households with children have seen significant increases in housing insecurity and food insufficiency.  When experienced in childhood, these forms of economic adversity have cumulative negative consequences that endure throughout the life course. With experts predicting another “two long years” until recovery, this is a serious social problem.

Key provisions of the CARES Act, including expanded unemployment benefits and  protections against eviction and foreclosure, are set to expire on July 31, 2020, increasing Americans’ vulnerability to poverty, hunger, and homelessness. Without additional economic relief, millions of children face risks to health and well-being that may persist long after COVID-19 is under control.

Food insufficiency in households with children during COVID-19

In the first week of July, almost 15% of American households with children reported not having enough to eat over the past 7 days, compared to just 9% of households without children.  This represents a substantial increase since the pandemic: 35% of these households reported they did have sufficient food prior to March 13, 2020.

A vast body of research documents the association of food insufficiency (not having sufficient food) and food insecurity (limited or uncertain access to adequate food) with a range of negative outcomes for children. Children raised in food insecure households are at higher risk of depression, suicide ideation, behavioral problems, deficits in educational and social skills, and poor health as much as 10 years later. Schools play an important role in protecting children from the effects of household food insufficiency by providing free or reduced-price meals to those in need. But it is not clear that all schools will be back in session fulltime this fall. Furthermore, pre-school aged children, who do not normally get school meals, may be particularly vulnerable to the long-range impact of food insecurity, given the rapid cognitive development that occurs between age 0-5.

Housing insecurity in households with children during COVID-19

Housing insecurity—which includes lack of access to affordable housing, homelessness, crowding, and poor housing quality—has also increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, further threatening the health and well-being of American children.  As of early July, 15% of mortgaged households with children had a late or deferred mortgage payment the previous month, compared to 6% of mortgaged households without children. The numbers are even more striking for renters. Approximately 26% of households living with children in rental units reported a late or deferred payment in the past month. As the pandemic continues, these families are at risk of risk foreclosure or eviction.

The residential instability faced by those who can’t afford adequate housing undermines children’s school performance, limits access to preventive services including immunizations, and increases risk of a wide range of developmental and health problems, including drug use and teen pregnancyOne study found that children who experienced multiple residential moves prior to age 7 were almost three times more likely to be diagnosed with depression by age 14. In addition, children in households that lack affordable housing or who experience housing instability (evictions, frequent moves, homelessness) are at higher risk of parental maltreatment, neglect, and abuse.

Housing and food insecurity undermine child and adolescent well-being in part by increasing maternal depression, parenting stress, and harsh parenting. And even parents who have not yet experienced food or housing insufficiency but anticipate doing so as the crisis continues are now feeling the kind of stress that can erode smooth family functioning. In A May study by the American Psychological Association, 70% of parents reported that being able to provide basic needs such as access to food and housing during the pandemic was a significant source of stress. Two-thirds also reported being stressed by worry about access to health care services.

Increased isolation during the pandemic exacerbates the vulnerability of families with children to the negative effects of housing and food insecurity

Many low-income families rely on support from family and friends in order to make ends meet, but social isolation, uncertainty, and widespread economic strain have made these resources more difficult to access during COVID-19. At the same time, school closures and restrictions on contact have isolated many children from professionals who work with children and serve as mandated reporters for suspected abuse or neglect.

But duration of exposure matters, suggesting that it is not too late to head off many of the negative long-term consequences of the economic toll of the pandemic for American children if we strengthen and expand existing relief measures. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, which replaced the Food Stamp Program) provides funds directly to families to help pay for food but current benefits may be insufficient to meet growing needs.  Provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 that allowed states to provide free or reduced-price meals to eligible students affected by pandemic-related school closures may need to be extended beyond the 2019-2020 school year. And temporary expansions of employment benefits and eviction protections provided by the CAREs Act are set to expire at the end of July. Investing in America’s children by expanding and extending these important government programs can help to mitigate the long-term social, economic, and health toll of the pandemic on the next generation.

Kristi Williams, Ph.D., is Professor in the Department of Sociology at Ohio State University, and President of the Board of Directors of the Council on Contemporary Families. She can be reached at

Reprinted from:

Reprinted with permission from Econofact

The Issue:

There are large disparities in COVID-related unemployment, with the largest proportional losses among Latinx and less-educated workers. The effects have been particularly felt among children.  In our original research based on very recent data, we find that one-in-five children in the United States experienced the job loss of an adult in their household between February and April of 2020 and one-in-twelve experienced the job loss of all adult earners in their household, including one-in-seven children living with single parents. Our analysis also points to striking disparities by race, ethnicity, and income, with higher shares of Latinx, Black, and lower-income children losing all adult earners in their households. While there was some job recovery between April and May, the pattern of job losses appears to be exacerbating inequality.

The Facts:

  • There was pervasive experience among children with one or more adults in their households losing jobs following the March 2020 COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, but there are also significant differences across racial, ethnic and income groups. The statistic that 21 percent of children experienced the job loss of at least one adult in their household is calculated over all race and ethnic groups, household incomes, and family structures. (This statistic, and all others in this memo, are based on our analysis using the Current Population Survey (CPS) interviews of the same households in February and April of 2020, and following a subset interviewed in May 2020). Latinx and lower-income children were harder hit; 27 percent of Latinx children and 24 percent of children in households earning less than the country’s median income ($75,000) prior to the pandemic experienced at least one household member losing a job between February and April of 2020. About one-third of children living in households that included parents and other adults, like grown children, or extended family members, experienced one of the adults in that household losing a job.
  • Disparities were particularly stark among children experiencing job loss of all working adults in their household. The share of children living in households in which no one earned an income doubled from 7 percent in February to 15 percent in April. The overall share of children in households that lost all adult earners between February and April, 8.3 percent, masks differences across groups (see the chart). The share of White children whose households lost all adult earners was 5.8 percent while these shares for Black children and Latinx children were 12.4 percent and 11.9 percent, respectively. There was a higher share of children in households with income below $75,000, where all adult earners lost their job (12.1 percent) as compared to the share of children in households that made between $75,000 and $150,000 (4.9 percent) or those that made more than $150,000 (2.5 percent). There were also marked differences across family structure; 14.2 percent of children living with single parents saw their parent lose their job while less than half that share of children living with two parents (6.4 percent) saw all earners in their households lose their jobs.
  • Latinx children were more likely to be in households that experienced any job loss, but they were relatively protected from job losses among all adult earners because they more often lived in households with multiple adults. Latinx children are more likely to live households that include grandparents and extended kin. The average number of adults in a Latinx household with children was 2.3, as compared to 2.1 for Whites and 1.9 for Blacks. Twenty percent of Latinx children lived in two-parent households with other adults – the comparable statistics were 10.4 percent for White children and 8 percent for Black children. Among Latinx children, 11.1 percent lived in single-parent households with other adults, while 5.6 percent of White children and 17.2 percent of Black children lived in households of this type.
  • There were mixed findings when we looked at the same group of children in May 2020. Children’s experience of job loss in their household between February and April captured the immediate impact of March stay-at-home orders. Following this group of children for an additional month using linked samples from the May CPS showed that all groups were doing marginally better, with fewer children in households with no earners. This appears to be especially true among children in higher-income households earning above $150,000. But other children, particularly Black and Latinx children, seem to be lagging behind. Data suggest that to the extent there has been a recovery, it has been unequal across groups, exacerbating disparities and indicating widening gaps in the longer-run. (Our estimates are based on a subset of children whose households responded to the May CPS; this subset tended to draw proportionally more observations from richer households, potentially understating disparities in recovery.) And, of course, the situation remains fluid, with forecasts warning that economic conditions may worsen.
  • There were also large geographic differences in the share of children who experienced job loss in their household. Stay-at-home orders varied across states, although there is evidence that the labor market collapsed at the same time across the U.S. irrespective of where the virus first spread or, the timing of state-level lock-down policies. State-level safety net policies, including unemployment insurance, vary widely. These factors suggest inequality in children’s experiences across states. We found that, at the state level, the loss of all household earners from February to April ranged from less than 2 percent of children in Minnesota and Connecticut to over 15 percent in New York and Nevada. Differences in child vulnerability do not map neatly onto the generosity of state safety nets. For example, Minnesota’s per capita spending on social welfare is relatively high and Connecticut’s is relatively low. Similarly, New York’s spending is high and Nevada’s is low. Regional disparities in child vulnerability to household job loss likely reflect state-by-state differences in the occupational mix, including the share of essential workers and jobs that more easily transitioned to remote work. These differences will likely shift, and may very well widen, as the pandemic moves to new areas of the country.

What this Means:

The number of children who lived in households that experienced job loss in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic was staggering. It was also consistent with the precipitous rise in unemployment during this period. The most recent data available from the May CPS interviews points to modest and unequal recovery and, of course, some suggest a worsening of conditions as the pandemic spreads to new areas of the country. The job losses followed longstanding patterns of unequal vulnerability and exacerbated inequalities by race and ethnicity, income, and family structure. Furthermore, issues of child well-being extend beyond economic security to broader indicators of development, including stress-related health outcomes, cognitive development, and social development. Children—particularly those at greatest risk of economic vulnerability—need support at this unprecedented time. Many children at greatest risk are in states with weak track records of social support, and they need better access to income security, childcare, education, and nutrition. Delaying this support will exacerbate the long-term implications of the pandemic on a generation of children.

Anna Bokun is a Sociology Ph.D. student and a trainee in Population Studies at the University of Minnesota. Follow her at @AnnaMBokun.  Jessie Himmelstern is a Sociology Ph.D. student and a trainee in Population Studies at the University of Minnesota. Follow her at @Jesshimmel. Wonjeong Jeong is a Sociology Ph.D. student at Cornell University. Ann Meier is Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Population Studies Training Program at the University of Minnesota. Kelly Musick is Professor and Department Chair of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University. Rob Warren is Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota where he also directs the Population Health Training Program. 

Eighteen million people in the U.S. are cohabiting, and half are under age 35. Cohabiting couples are more egalitarian; but they are younger, poorer, and more vulnerable at work and at home. These families’ needs are neglected in many plans for how to help in a time of pandemic. 

 Newspapers and websites are full of advice for married couples who are working from home while trying to manage child care. But most of that advice is aimed at married couples, whose challenges are often very different than those facing the millions of cohabiting couples in America. In a briefing report, The Challenges Facing Cohabiting Couples in this Crisis, to the Council on Contemporary Families, Amanda Miller (University of Indianapolis) and Sharon Sassler (Cornell  University) show how crucial it is to understand cohabiting families and respond to their—until now—neglected needs and concerns. Consider:

  • Cohabitors have less money. Fifty-three percent earn less than $30,000 per year.
  • An estimated 5.8 million American children were living in cohabiting households in 2018. Almost twice as many cohabiting parents as married ones (46 percent vs. 26 percent) are low-income, earning 150 percent or less of the supplemental poverty measure.
  • Cohabitors are concentrated in low-wage jobs, making them more likely to have been impacted by the 30 million job losses we experienced in the past month, but also more likely to be labeled essential workers, required to report to high-stress front-line jobs with inadequate protections in place.
  • As some states relax shelter-in-place orders, cohabitors who have jobs to go back to are less likely to have paid sick leave, increasing the likelihood of exposure on the job.

Egalitarianism helps, but…. Heterosexual cohabitors have one advantage in this crisis compared to their married counterparts, Miller and Sassler report. On average, they are less locked in to traditional gender roles and less likely to assume that women should do more care work at home. Such equality is now one of the strongest predictors of relationship satisfaction, suggesting that heterosexual married couples have some things to learn from cohabitors, as well as from same-sex married couples. However, many cohabitors do not intend to marry, and the report outlines the different risks that can arise when relationships are intensified by shelter-in-place orders.

The bottom line: Shelter-in-place and the attendant global economic crisis compound the hardships and risks facing cohabitors. Miller and Sassler argue for specific social policies tailored to address their unique financial and demographic characteristics.

Virginia Rutter is a Framingham State University Professor of Sociology, Council on Contemporary Families Senior Scholar, and co-editor of Families as They Really Are. Follow her at @VirginiaRutter.

For many couples, family work at home has increased, but for most of those couples, even when women are still doing more than their partners, women’s relative share of the burden is less lopsided than before the pandemic. On the whole, men have increased the percentage of the housework and childcare that they do since the pandemic. Two big exceptions: Women are doing 70 percent of homeschooling. And among couples where the division of labor was most unequal before the pandemic, women’s absolute AND relative share of family work has increased.

No survey or snapshot captures the diversity of experiences families are having managing the pandemic at home. An unprecedented number of families in the U.S. and other rich countries around the world are at home right now. The rest are caring for family while working away from home, and many are serving on the frontlines as essential workers.

Still, sociologists have detected important patterns that tell us where we could be heading beyond the pandemic—and remind us of where we were before it started. In a briefing report prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families, “Men and Women Agree: During the COVID-19 Pandemic Men Are Doing More at Home,” Daniel Carlson (University of Utah), Richard Petts (Ball State University), and Joanna Pepin (University of Texas-Austin) share results from a survey of 1,060 parents in different-sex couples. In response to fears that the pandemic has dealt a major blow to hopes for gender equality, they conclude: “Our results suggest a more hopeful scenario than those implied by some of the headlines: According to both men and women, men are doing more housework and childcare during the pandemic than before it began, leading to more equal sharing of domestic labor.

Glass half full? Some results yielded a glass half-full perspective:

  • While for many families the burdens have grown, about 60 percent of respondents reported that their “time in domestic labor has not changed since the beginning of the pandemic, even accounting for helping children with homework.” This may be due to reductions in things like chauffeuring children, scheduling their activities, and attending their events – a reminder of how much time parents normally spend on domestic labor outside the household.
  • “Among most couples where the division of tasks did change, it did so in an egalitarian direction.”
  • “A little more than a month after the start of the pandemic, 41 percent of parents reported sharing housework with their partners”—a 15-percentage-point rise over pre-pandemic levels.
  • Shared childcare grew by 11 percentage points, from around 45 percent to around 56 percent, with small variations depending on the ages of the children.
  • “In no situation — and in no type of family, whether dual-earner where both are working full-time, dual-earner where someone is working part-time, single earner, or both unemployed — did we find that the division of tasks became less likely to be shared.”

…or is the glass half empty? Men who already participated in housework and childcare before the pandemic tended to increase their share of these tasks after. But little progress occurred among couples where men started out less involved. And even the more egalitarian couples did not make the same progress when it came to dividing the novel tasks of homeschooling that the pandemic added to many families’ daily schedules.

  • “We find that most women (70 percent) report being primarily responsible for homeschooling during the pandemic.”
  • Most of the increased sharing of housework and childcare occurred among couples who had made strides towards dividing these tasks in a less traditional manner before the pandemic. Among couples who had not made such strides, both the absolute amount of women’s work and their relative share of family labor increased substantially. “Of the mothers who continued to be primarily responsible for domestic work during the COVID-19 pandemic, roughly one-third increased their time spent in housework and care of children during the pandemic.”

The bottom line: This new research gives us some hope for greater realization of the promise of shared parenting and housework, while it reminds us of the legacy of inequality that domestic work carries with it. CCF Research Director Stephanie Coontz sums it up: “The bad news is that dads still expect moms to figure out what the kids need, so when a new responsibility comes up, like having to take over home schooling, women end up doing the heavy lifting.” She continues, “The good news, when you combine these findings with other studies on the long-term effect of paternity leave, split shifts, and work from home, is that once men begin to see and participate in the invisible labor they used to be able to ignore, most of them step up their game.”


Daniel L. Carlson / Associate Professor / Department of Family and Consumer Studies / University of Utah /

Richard J. Petts / Professor / Department of Sociology / Ball State University /

Joanna Pepin / Postdoctoral Fellow / Population Research Center / University of Texas – Austin /

Virginia Rutter is a Framingham State University Professor of Sociology, Council on Contemporary Families Senior Scholar, and co-editor of Families as They Really Are. Follow her at @VirginiaRutter.