Working mothers interrupted more often than fathers in lockdown - study

Mothers more likely to have lost jobs and are doing more childcare and housework

Working mothers have been able to do only one hour of uninterrupted paid work for every three hours done by men during lockdown, according to a study that exposes the work imbalance between men and women

A report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL institute of education also says mothers in England are more likely than fathers to have lost their jobs during lockdown, increasing fears that the coronavirus crisis has exacerbated inequality and could lead to the gender pay gap increasing.

The Office for National Statistics said separately that men were doing more than an hour less unpaid labour than women each day, despite increasing their responsibilities during lockdown.

The IFS-UCL study interviewed 3,500 families of two opposite-gender parents and found that mothers were doing more childcare and more housework than fathers.

The mothers interviewed were looking after children for an average of 10.3 hours a day – 2.3 hours more than fathers – and doing housework for 1.7 more hours than fathers.

In families where the father had stopped work while his partner continued, on average they did the same amount of household work – while the woman did an average of five hours of paid work a day.

The study found that mothers were 23% more likely than fathers to have temporarily or permanently lost their jobs during the crisis. Mothers were 47% more likely to have permanently lost their job or quit and 14% more likely to have been furloughed.

Alison Andrew, a senior research economist at the IFS, said mothers were now 9% less likely to still be in paid work than fathers, which could have serious ramifications for the future of the economy and could further increase the gender pay gap.

“Mothers are more likely than fathers to have moved out of paid work since the start of lockdown,” she said. “They have reduced their working hours more than fathers even if they are still working, and they experience more interruptions while they work from home than fathers, particularly due to caring for children. A risk is that the lockdown leads to a further increase in the gender wage gap.”

Fathers have increased the time they spend on housework and childcare, doing nearly twice as many hours as they did in 2014-15. “This may bring about changes in the attitudes of fathers, mothers, children and employers about the role of fathers in meeting family needs for childcare and domestic work during the working week,” said Sonya Krutikova, a deputy research director at the IFS.

Sam Smethers, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said the data confirmed fears that the “motherhood penalty” had been multiplied by the effects of the lockdown. “This will reverse decades of progress on women’s participation in the labour market unless the government intervenes to address it,” she said. “What this study shows is that we are going backwards, and that is extremely worrying.”

She said there was a “real prospect of two-tier workplaces” as the lockdown was eased with men getting back into work and women left at home caring for children, without nursery places or schools fully open for months.

“Government must now prioritise strategic investment to create a childcare infrastructure, reform parental leave to equalise parenting in a child’s first year, and normalise flexible and remote working in the post-Covid economy,” she said. “And they could also relieve the financial pressure on parents by increasing child benefit.”

The ONS’s Time Use survey compared data recorded between 28 March and 26 April with figures from the previous study between April 2014 and December 2015.

Time spent on childcare had risen by 35% during the lockdown, while care from older people such as grandparents had declined 90%, the survey found.

Men increased their unpaid labour – such as caring for children or adults, housework and volunteering – by 22 minutes, to two hours and 25 minutes a day. Women’s burden was reduced by 20 minutes a day, to three hours and 32 minutes, meaning they were still giving an hour and seven minutes more of their time than men. Before the lockdown the gap in unpaid work between men and women was an hour and 50 minutes.


Alexandra Topping

The GuardianTramp

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