The study used time diaries to examine how working parents managed school closures and childcare disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic – believed to be the first such use of that data.
Researcher Kelly Musk, Professor of Public Policy and Sociology and Senior Associate Dean for Research at the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, said, “We found that women working from home during the pandemic had a greater burden of parenting Is.” “While the shift to working from home offered more flexibility, the lack of separation between work and family contributed to a more challenging work environment, particularly among mothers.”
An article detailing their findings, “Parental Work Arrangements and Gender Time Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” was published in Journal of Marriage and Family, Thomas Lyttelton of the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark was the lead author, and Emma Zang, a sociologist at Yale University, and Musk were co-authors.
The researchers analyzed data from the 2017-20 American Time Use Survey. A representative sample of Americans recorded their daily activities in detail, noting how much time they spent on each task, where they were, and who was present. Those records were then compared to how parents allocated their time before the pandemic, resulting in these key findings:
- There was no increase among parents working from home or on-site in total childcare time as a primary focus, such as feeding or bathing children, playing or reading. The added hours were in supervisory work – monitoring activities and making sure youth were safe, as well as doing other activities, often paid work – and this is where the two-hour gap between women and men emerged Came. “Large increases among mothers, relative to fathers, in supervisory care point to mothers’ unequal responsibility for children,” Mucsside.
- When activities did not involve multitasking or affect work duties, there was an even greater divide between mothers and fathers. Moms have disproportionately increased playing time with their kids during the pandemic, and dads have taken on more household chores. This is contrary to what the evidence suggests about domestic life before the pandemic.
- While the pandemic has given parents more time at home with children, much of that time has been taken up by paid work. Parents working on the site experienced no such change. All mothers – both those working on site and at home – also changed their work schedules during the pandemic, clocking non-standard hours and working hours throughout the day, presumably to better accommodate increased parenting demands to do.
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 that doesn’t meet the demands of caregiving and a policy infrastructure ill-equipped to support working parents,” Musk said. “Change is needed at both the public and private levels to better accommodate the health, productivity and well-being of working families.”