Why Lockdown has been especially bad for mothers’ careers

As restrictions begin to ease across the UK, you might be mistaken for thinking that things are getting back to normal. However, for many of us, both men and women, our personal and professional lives are going to look different from now on.

The economic consequences of lockdown are already looking bad, with news that the economy shrank by a massive 20.4% in April, but the whole picture might not be revealed for a while yet. 

One effect of the lockdown has seen the careers of women disproportionately negatively affected by the lockdown measures taken to combat Covid 19. There are fears that the gender pay gap may increase further and many women may find it harder to get their professional lives back on track.

A recent study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) questioned 3500 families to see how their domestic and professional lives have been affected by lockdown and the results were illuminating. 

The study found that mothers who were in paid work pre coronavirus, were 47% more likely than fathers to have lost their job or quit. They are also 14% more likely to have been furloughed. 

The same study found that mothers were taking on most of the childcare and housework during lockdown. The study reveals that on average, mothers were only able to complete one hour of uninterrupted work, compared to the three hours done by dads in households where both parents work. 

Furthermore, mothers who have stopped paid work during lockdown (while their partner continues working) do twice as much childcare and housework as their partner on average. In the reverse situation, where the father has stopped working, the parents share childcare and housework equally, while the mother also does 5 hours of paid work a day.

The reasons behind these findings are deep rooted and difficult to explain in one blog post. However, one reason is that in this economic slowdown, unlike previous examples, the main industries hit include retail and hospitality, where women are overrepresented. 

Also 40% of women work part time compared to around 13% of men, which can mean that their jobs are less stable. It also means that when deciding which parent should give up work, the part time job is the less essential one. This scenario has been played out across many families during lockdown due to the lack of childcare available. With schools and nurseries closed and grandparents/wider family unable to help, the options for working parents have been few and far between. 

Another reason for the disparity in the distribution of household tasks and paid work is that for many families, the precedent is set during maternity leave where in many cases the mother takes charge of establishing a routine and the domestic duties. Despite the fact that new parents have the option to share up to 50 weeks of leave, currently only about 2% actually do split their entitlement to parental leave.

There are fears that the current situation could undo some of the work that has tried to shrink the gender pay gap and give more opportunities to working parents. Women’s salaries do seem to have been impacted the most by the economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic. Five years ago, mothers in paid work earned 80% of the rate of their husband or partner, this has now shrunk to 70%.

The situation for working mums may look bleak at the moment. But there are a  couple of glimmers of hope on the horizon. Despite still doing more childcare than their husbands or partners, fathers are now doing on average 8 hours of childcare a day, compared to just 4 in 2014-15. Hopefully this trend will continue as it becomes the norm for fathers to contribute more to childcare. 

Furthermore, the restrictions imposed by lockdown have led to many of us working in a different way. With a huge increase in working from home and greater flexibility shown to employees in terms of their hours and ways of working, there is a good chance that this will continue after coronavirus.

What have you had to do to adapt to the upheaval brought about by the coronavirus pandemic? Have you enjoyed the changes or have you found it a struggle?

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