Telecommuting has become a fact of life for millions of people across the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. But its burdens aren’t distributed evenly: A new Yale-led study suggests that working from home is harder on moms than on dads.
The working paper, one of few to examine gender inequality in remote work arrangements, found that telecommuting moms spend significantly more time performing housework when they work from home than dads do. Moms working remotely also spend more time doing their jobs with children present than telecommuting dads, according to the study.
“There is an assumption, with some research to support it, that telecommuting is particularly good for mothers,” said Thomas Lyttelton, a Ph.D. candidate in Yale’s Department of Sociology and the study’s lead author. “While it might be the case that telecommuting helps mothers to juggle work and child care, our study suggests that it also leads them to do a disproportionate amount of housework and child care compared to fathers.”
The study also found that moms working remotely during the pandemic are more likely to report feeling depressed, anxious, and lonely than telecommuting dads. It showed no gender gaps in anxiety levels among parents who are commuting to workplaces during the crisis.
“Evidence shows that women are disproportionately losing their jobs during the pandemic, but even when they retain employment and have the option to work from home, our research suggests that they are suffering emotionally more than men,” said Emma Zang, assistant professor of sociology in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and a co-author of the study. “Women across employment situations are doing worse than men in the present circumstances. This disparity could increase as telecommuting becomes more entrenched as a result of the pandemic.”
Kelly Musick, professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University and director of Cornell Population Center, co-authored the study with Zang and Lyttelton.
The researchers analyzed data collected both before and during the pandemic. The pre-crisis data is from the 2003-2018 American Time Use Survey — a nationally representative sample of 19,179 respondents who tracked their daily activity in time diaries. Using this data, the study compared gender gaps across three categories: people who work exclusively at home, telecommute part time, or exclusively travel to a workplace. It examined gendered patterns in the time telecommuters spent on housework, child care, and leisure; contextual features of their formal work time, including how much of the workday people spent with kids present; and how working remotely affects people’s perceptions of their well-being. The researchers used a quasi-experimental design that allowed them to establish a causal relationship between telecommuting and gender gaps.
The data on telecommuting during the pandemic is from the COVID Impact Survey — a nationally representative survey collected in April and May 2020 by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Their finding that telecommuting mothers feel more stressed and depressed than fathers who are working remotely during the crisis jibes with recent polling indicating mothers are spending more time than fathers on child care, homeschooling, and housework while in quarantine. It also corresponds with the study’s pre-pandemic analysis, which revealed various gender inequities between telecommuting moms and dads.
For example, the researchers found that moms working from home spend 49 minutes more per day on housework compared to telecommuting dads. They determined that mothers who telecommute one day a week lose $660 a year in potential earnings due to time spent on housework. This translates to more than $2,600 per year for those who telecommute four days a week, according to the study.
The study found that telecommuting moms spend 33 minutes more per day working while their children are present compared to fathers working from home.
“You can imagine that you’re trying to juggle child care and your job, and your attention is divided while you’re trying to work,” Lyttelton said. “We don’t have a way of quantifying how that affects mothers’ productivity, but we think that this is probably consequential.”
To mitigate the gender inequality associated with working from home during the pandemic, the researchers recommend that policymakers and employers consider increasing support for effective flexible working schedules, healthy work lifestyles, job security, and paid sick leave, particularly for families with children. They also urge policymakers to support domestic workers, child care providers, and educators through increased compensation and stronger labor protections.