The Impact of Covid-19 on Working ParentsSep 29, 2020
A new Catalyst survey finds widespread job insecurity and fear among mothers and fathers.
Catalyst partnered with CNBC to research the impact of Covid-19 on educational plans among parents of school-aged children (5–18 years old). We sought to explore perceptions among parents of their children’s return to school: would a return to school have a negative impact on parents’ employment and career prospects? We also wanted to understand any coping and support mechanisms that parents may be adopting during this period of uncertainty.
Our survey of 1,000 parents across the United States shows that many parents believe being a parent is a strike against them in the workplace. Even as some schools reopen, most parents (66%) say their children will be in 100% remote or virtual learning. Many parents worry this could have a negative impact on their careers.
Four in 10 (41%) parents say they have less job security due to the pandemic, and fear being penalized because they have childcare responsibilities. In addition, four in 10 (42%) parents fear it would be a risk to their employment to take advantage of benefits their workplaces offer to working parents, with over a third (39%) worrying that they could be terminated if they did so.
While all parents are under enormous strain, generally speaking mothers are bearing a greater burden than fathers, as they are disproportionately expected to fulfill household and caregiving responsibilities during the workweek. Moreover, 41% of mothers say they must hide their caregiving struggles from their colleagues.
Both mothers and fathers feel that being a parent is a strike against them in the workplace during the pandemic. And both mothers and fathers fear taking advantage of parental benefits offered.
During this pandemic, parents are caught in a difficult predicament, tasked with making challenging decisions about their family and career daily. Regardless of gender and race, parents fear they will be negatively affected by employer decisions because they are parents.
Uncertainty around schooling has altered many parents’ lives. But among those parents we surveyed, many also believe there is risk associated with reaching out to access, or asking for, workplace support—or that if they do, they will be penalized or even terminated because they are a working parent.
Parents need more work-related support and communication.
Many parents, and especially mothers (49%, as compared to 39% of fathers),1 are not aware of the plans their employers have in place for parents, or know that these plans simply do not exist at their company. They are relying on their work relationships, such as their managers or work colleagues, for support.
To alleviate the challenges parents are facing, companies must provide increased transparency around available benefits and create an environment in which employees do not feel they are faulted for being parents. Communication needs to be empathetic toward their concerns and delivered both as overall company directives and through more personal channels.
Parents in senior-level roles are concerned about uncertainty about schooling.
Sixty percent of senior-level mothers—compared with 45% of non-senior-level mothers2—expressed concern that they will have to continue to work and care for children at home. Also, parents in senior-level positions report higher levels of concern than those in non-senior-level roles. Their concerns include having to reduce their hours, including working part-time or quitting temporarily; hire outside support; or leave their children at home alone if schools do not fully open.
Parents are dealing with the strain of managing both family and work due to the pandemic.
Most mothers and fathers have had to modify their work routines to adapt to caregiving needs and balance their family responsibilities. This disruption has left parents across genders, races, ethnicities, and job levels feeling guilty about caregiving responsibilities.
Even as schools reopen, most children will be engaging in virtual learning. Additionally, many parents worry about the impact of the pandemic and uncertainty about school reopening on their careers. Parents are concerned that they are not currently performing to the best of their abilities and that the Covid-19 crisis will affect their job security and career growth.
Many parents have also experienced intense personal challenges due to the coronavirus crisis, including suffering grief due to a loss of life. Overall, many have experienced financial hardship, with some having lost job-related income or faced difficulty getting needed resources.3 In particular, some parents report having had to move their residence or ask a relative to move in with them to receive support.
Mothers are experiencing a greater burden than fathers are.
A majority of mothers say they are primarily responsible for managing childcare tasks throughout the workweek, such as preparing meals, supervising homework, and even monitoring playtime with their child(ren). Mothers feel more guilt in attempting to meet work-life demands, and experience more feelings of anxiety.
This research was collected in a 10-minute online survey of 1,000 US adults aged 20–65+ working in companies with 500+ employees. The survey was conducted by Edelman Intelligence on behalf of Catalyst from August 18–26, 2020. All statistical tests performed were z-tests comparing group proportions. (“Z” and “p” are metrics used to assess whether there is a statistically significant difference between groups.)
Work and Life Challenges Have Intensified During This Pandemic, Straining Parents.
Most mothers and fathers have had to modify their work routines to adapt to caregiving needs and balance family responsibilities.
The disruption of work-life balance has left many parents feeling guilty, whether when working (54%) because they’re not attending to caregiving, or when caregiving (43%) because they’re not attending to their work. They are caught in a no-win situation.
Many parents believe their performance has suffered as a result of the pandemic, and they are having to rethink their futures.
A majority (63%) of senior-level mothers, 51% of senior-level fathers, 43% of non-senior-level mothers, and 36% of non-senior-level fathers say they have had to revise their career goals or ambitions. Moreover, a majority (61%) of senior-level mothers report that they have been unable to perform optimally. This sentiment is shared by 48% of senior-level fathers, 40% of non-senior-level mothers, and 39% of non-senior-level fathers.
One-fourth of parents (26%) are also suffering personal grief due to a loss from Covid-19. Forty-three percent of parents report that the coronavirus crisis impacted them negatively from a financial point of view, with 28% having lost job-related income and 34% having a difficult time getting needed resources.4
Parents are seeking social support to help care for their children, and fathers, compared to mothers, are more likely to consider moving (43% of fathers and 30% of mothers5) or asking relatives to move in with them (40% of fathers and 30% of mothers6) to get the help they need.
Most Parents Intend to Keep Their Children in Virtual Learning. However, Many Worry About the Impact This Action May Have on Their Careers.
Many parents (66%) say that their children’s school is currently open or planning to reopen. Two-thirds of parents (66%) also say that their children will be in 100% remote or virtual learning, whether by necessity or choice.
Only 20% plan to have their children participate in 100% in-person, classroom learning. White mothers (33%) are more likely to have children who are or will be participating in 100% in-person instruction compared to Asian (17%), Black (12%), or Latina (12%) mothers.7 Although not statistically comparable due to sample size,8 only 10% of Indigenous mothers have children who will be engaging in 100% in-person instruction.
Even if in-person classroom instruction resumed, more than half (57%) of parents say they are either against the idea of sending their children back to school or are unsure about it. But overall, White mothers9 (59%) are more likely than Asian mothers (36%), Black mothers (25%), and Latinx mothers (42%) to send their children to in-person, classroom instruction. And despite the small sample size, Indigenous mothers10 (57%) surveyed also plan to send their children to in-person instruction if schools reopen. Also, 64% of White fathers, 45% of Latinx fathers, 40% of Black fathers, and 39% of Asian fathers plan to send their children to in-person, classroom instruction if schools reopen. Although an extremely small sample size,11 64% of Indigenous fathers express that they will do the same.
However, keeping children at home causes parents concern for their ability to manage both their careers and their families—and over a third of parents (36%) fear they might have to leave their children at home.
Nearly half (48%) of total parents are concerned that they will have to reduce their hours, go part-time, or quit their jobs temporarily. Latina mothers,12 in particular, have these concerns (63%), as compared with White mothers (41%), Black mothers (39%), and Asian mothers (47%). Though the sample size is small,13 the majority of Indigenous mothers surveyed also have these concerns (55%).
Schools failing to reopen is of particular concern among those in senior leadership roles. Sixty percent of senior-level mothers—compared with 45% of non-senior-level mothers14—expressed concern that they will have to continue to work and care for children at home.
Also, parents in senior-level positions report higher levels of concerns, compared to those in non-senior-level roles, such as having to:
- Reduce their hours, including working part-time or quitting temporarily.15
- 72% of senior-level mothers compared to 42% of non-senior-level mothers.
- 65% of senior-level fathers compared to 44% of non-senior-level fathers.
- Hire outside support.16
- 65% of senior-level mothers compared to 34% of non-senior-level mothers.
- 66% of senior-level fathers compared to 34% of non-senior-level fathers.
- Leave their children at home alone.17
- 54% of senior-level mothers compared to 30% of non-senior-level mothers.
- 54% of senior-level fathers compared to 37% of non-senior-level fathers.
In general, parents working remotely and parents not working remotely share similar concerns about their children’s educational plans if schools do not fully reopen. Yet mothers who aren’t working remotely are more likely to express concern that they will have to reduce hours, go part-time, or quit temporarily (55%), compared with 42% of mothers who work remotely.18
Many Parents Fear Negative Impacts on Their Career and Job Security in This Time of Uncertainty.
Parents fear they will be the first to go from their companies if the economic environment does not improve.
They also fear that their chances of receiving a promotion are diminished due to lack of employer supports for caregiving during the coronavirus.
Furthermore, more than half of parents (58%) worry that as the economy continues to weaken, their company will become less flexible with working hours.
Both Mothers and Fathers Report That Being a Parent Is a Strike Against Them in the Workplace.
Layoffs and furloughs are still primary concerns for many parents, who believe it is a risk to take advantage of the childcare benefits their employer offers.
A third of parents (33%) worry that they will be laid off in the next six months due to Covid-19, with senior-level parents (48% of mothers and 44% of fathers) particularly worried.19
Four in 10 mothers and fathers say they have less job security (41%) and fear penalization (38%) because they are a working parent.
Four in 10 parents also fear it would be a risk to their employment to take advantage of the offerings or benefits available to them through their workplace (42%), and over a third (39%) worry they will be terminated if they ask for them.
Additionally, both mothers (41%) and fathers (36%) feel like they have had to hide their caregiving struggles.
Mothers Bear a Greater Burden Than Fathers Do.
Mothers are disproportionately expected to shoulder the burdens of household and caregiving responsibilities during the workweek and are experiencing more reported feelings of anxiety than fathers.
Significantly more mothers than fathers (62% vs. 52%) find it difficult to “switch off” their mind from work at the end of the day.
Mothers also report that they do most of the childcare tasks, whereas fathers are more likely to expect their partner to manage tasks across the board.20
Mothers worry more than fathers that they can’t support their child(ren) with school tasks as much as they need to. Mothers are also more likely than fathers to feel guilty when working because they are not able attend to caregiving responsibilities.
Women also experience more feelings of anxiety than men,21 with 78% of mothers reporting feeling nervous, anxious, or on-edge for several days or more over the past two weeks compared with 69% of fathers.22
Mothers Receive Less Workplace Support Than Fathers Do in Managing Childcare.
More mothers than fathers23 say their employer either has no plans in place to help with childcare or they haven’t been made aware of such plans.24 Among those whose employers do have plans, more flexible schedules are the most common solution (according to 43% of mothers and 50% of fathers).25
Almost half of fathers (49%) and slightly more than a third of mothers (37%) believe that their employer has been moderately or very proactive in expanding parental benefits since the pandemic began. Yet mothers are more likely than fathers to say their organization has not been proactive at all (30% vs. 20%).26
A low percentage of both mothers and fathers report that their employer will provide supports for working parents. Yet fathers (26%) are significantly more likely to say their employer will support them via paid leave than are mothers (16%),27 or believe their employer will provide opportunities for them to receive help with childcare through additional paid time off (17% of fathers vs. 10% of mothers28).
As parents face tough decisions about their children’s educational plans, and many choose to place their children in 100% remote learning during the pandemic, they are facing very real challenges in their careers, in their caregiving roles, and personally.
Our study points to the fears that parents have in this time of uncertainty regarding job security—including being penalized as a working parent. In some cases, mothers are facing a greater burden in their caregiving responsibilities compared with fathers. With the likelihood that they will need to turn to their employers for support, mothers and fathers are finding limited options. While some feel benefits have expanded, a low percentage of parents overall feel that opportunities for paid leave, or opportunities to receive help with childcare through additional paid time off, are available to them.
Companies must do more to communicate and enhance their programs, as well as create psychologically safe spaces for parents to take advantage of these options. Doing so will smooth the path towards more fair, inclusive, and responsive workplaces in these uncertain times.
3 Scale used to measure perceived coronavirus stressors adopted from Kira, I. A. (2020). Measuring COVID-19 as traumatic stress: Initial psychometrics and validation. Journal of Loss and Trauma.
4 Scale used to measure perceived coronavirus stressors adopted from Kira, I. A. (2020). Measuring COVID-19 as traumatic stress: Initial psychometrics and validation. Journal of Loss and Trauma.
19 There are statistically significant differences between 48% of senior-level mothers compared to 30% non-senior-level mothers (p < .01) as well as between 44% of senior-level fathers compared to 26% non-senior-level fathers (p < .01).
22 To measure feelings of anxiety we adopted the GAD-2 scale from: Kroenke, K. et al. (2007). Anxiety disorders in primary care: prevalence, impairment, comorbidity, and detection. Annals of Internal Medicine, (146)5: 317–325.