Lockdown pressures on mothers could stall gender pay gap progress

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Childcare pressures and a reduction in paid working hours brought about by the lockdown could risk reversing some of the progress made in closing the gender pay gap, a report has claimed.

Mothers are more likely than fathers to be interrupted during their working day while in lockdown, and are spending less time on work and more time on household chores and childcare, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

These factors, along with other career hurdles brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, are likely to have long-lasting effects on mothers’ professional lives and slow down progress in narrowing the gender pay gap, the IFS’s How are mothers and fathers balancing work and family under lockdown? report says.

It found that in lockdown, mothers in households with two opposite-gender parents were only doing a third of the uninterrupted paid work hours of fathers, compared with 60% of these uninterrupted hours before the virus took hold.

Almost half (47%) of mothers’ paid working hours are split between work and other activities such as childcare and household tasks, compared with 30% of fathers’ paid working hours.

Although fathers are spending almost twice as many weekday hours on childcare than in 2014-15, mothers are looking after their children for 2.3 hours more hours than fathers, for 10.3 hours per day on average.

“Mothers are doing, on average, more childcare and more housework than fathers who have the same work arrangements, be that not working, working from home or working outside the home,” said Lucy Kraftman, research economist at the IFS.

“The only set of households where we see mothers and fathers sharing childcare and housework equally are those in which both parents were previously working but the father has now stopped working for pay while the mother is still in paid work.”

However, the increase in the time fathers are spending on childcare responsibilities could encourage mothers and fathers to take a more equal share after lockdown ends, said Sonya Krutikova, IFS deputy research director.

“Fathers, on average, are doing nearly double the hours of childcare they were doing prior to the crisis. 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.”

Mothers may be taking a greater share of childcare responsibilities because of the possible impact the lockdown has had on their jobs. They are 23% more likely than fathers to have lost their jobs during the current crisis and 14% more likely to have been furloughed.

Both mothers and fathers have seen a reduction in their paid working hours. Before the pandemic, working mothers did paid work in 6.3 hours of a weekday on average, but this has now fallen to 4.9 hours. Paid hours worked by fathers have fallen from 8.6 hours to 7.2 hours.

An online survey of 3,500 parents from opposite-gender parent households was conducted by researchers from the IFS and UCL Institute of Education between 29 April and 15 May.

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