Working Mothers Feel Increased Strain During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting working women nationwide, as highlighted in a recent report from the Center for American Progress and the Century Foundation.

In late summer 2020, Early Milestones and the Butler Institute surveyed over 11,000 Colorado families with children under the age of 12. Women represented 86% of the sample. Female respondents also reported overwhelming disruption to their child care plans.

Mothers who were laid off as a result of the pandemic told us that they had to stay home due to a lack of affordable and/or accessible child care. This prevents them from looking for another job or accepting job offers.

The high cost of care also caused some parents to reduce working hours or leave the workforce entirely to care for their children.

Tension between work and family was prevalent in our survey, highlighting challenges brought about by remote work. A significant majority of respondents who reported working from home said they were taking care of their children simultaneously. Many worried that this is unsustainable. Most women in our sample who reported remote work identified as white. In contrast, working women of color appeared to lack similar flexibility in their work arrangements. We found that 25% of women of color reported being able to work remotely, compared to 75% of their white peers. For those continuing with in-person work, women of color also reported difficulty finding affordable child care during the pandemic.

Regardless of a mother’s ability to work from home, many women reported pausing prior child care arrangements with a family member, often elderly, due to health concerns. As the pandemic continues, it is unclear when mothers will feel comfortable turning to elderly or high-risk family members for care again. This suggests that some families will experience a prolonged journey toward consistent child care.

The pandemic has disproportionately intensified the strain placed on mothers, and the need to better support working women is not novel. As we better understand this crisis, there is a great opportunity to create more equitably accessible employment and child care for mothers.

Learn more about Early Milestones’ research into the impact of COVID-19 on child care in Colorado.