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Telework Did Not Save Us: Motherhood, Work, and a Once in a Century Pandemic

Institute Working Paper 52 | Published September 2, 2021

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Misty Heggeness U.S. Census Bureau
Telework Did Not Save Us: Motherhood, Work, and a Once in a Century Pandemic


I study how an exogenous shock of increased caregiving needs during the pandemic shifted work patterns for custodial parents of school-age children relative to others and find that, during the pandemic, telework-able jobs did not save custodial mothers from disproportionate scarring in the labor market. At the margin, custodial mothers were more likely to leave the labor force, and this phenomenon was concentrated among mothers working in telework-able jobs. Custodial mothers who stayed attached to the labor market were more likely to take leave and mothers in telework-able jobs were twice as likely to take leave as mothers in jobs that were not telework-able – possibly because of challenges associated with balancing increased childcare needs with the demands of work as their workplace moved into the very private corners of their family homes. These findings drive home the importance of access to childcare if remote and flexible work schedules are to help parents, especially mothers, succeed (and stay) at work and has important policy implications for a gender-inclusive post-pandemic work environment. Employers should not only consider flexible work options _but also accessible childcare_ as critical incentives to keep mothers engaged in paid labor.