The coronavirus pandemic has changed every facet of our lives, and while school closures mean mothers are bearing the burden of additional responsibilities at home there is hope for a more equal future.
Motherly's third annual State of Motherhood survey shows how the quarantine is changing the way American mothers and their partners are splitting household responsibilities. We know that mothers don't want to go "back to normal" because normal is burning them out—this generation wants and needs a better normal when all this is over, and they're already building it with their partners.
From March to April there was a 12% increase in splitting household responsibilities equally.
We know this because 3,195 U.S. Millennial mothers took our annual State of Motherhood survey conducted from March 9 to March 23, 2020, but with so much changing due to COVID-19, Motherly conducted an additional survey between from April 15 to 23, 2020, with 3,169 respondents to ensure the impact of COVID-19 was reflected in our results.
America's mothers are experiencing an acute burnout, but partners who are spending more time at home now are doing more around the house and that is a good first step toward post-pandemic equality.
While many gender experts worry that the pandemic will mean a return to the 1950s in terms of gender roles at home, the results of the third annual State of Motherhood survey support the hypothesis presented by Matthias Doepke and Jane Olmstead-Rumsey of Northwestern University, Titan Alon of the University of California San Diego and Michèle Tertilt of the University of Mannheim in a recent research paper on gender equality and the pandemic.
As CNN reports, the researchers predict that in the short term, the pandemic will see mothers carrying a heavier load when it comes to childcare, but forecast a lasting change in gender dynamics in the longer term. "Even while women carry a higher burden during the crisis, it is still highly likely that we will observe a sizeable impact of this forced experiment on social norms, and ultimately on gender equality, in the near future," the researchers conclude.
Our survey results show that millennial mothers—who were already reporting a significant amount of burnout pre-COVID-19—are absolutely feeling the effects of not having adequate childcare, citing it as the biggest source of stress in their lives right now.
The split of household duties is changing
Our initial survey in March found most moms (63%) report handling childcare and household responsibilities mostly on their own. Only 30% report these duties are shared with a partner and just 4% say their partner takes care of most of the household responsibilities. But the pandemic has already changed this dynamic.
From March to April there was a 4% increase in the number of moms who report their partner is not working, and there has been a 12% increase in splitting household responsibilities equally, with 42% of moms reporting they split equally with their partners, compared to 30% reporting the same a month earlier.
Even for those who are now splitting caregiving responsibilities equally, they are reporting that childcare is their main cause of stress right now, at 35.6%. This cohort consists mostly of mothers with partners who are both working from home full-time, at 47% and 45% respectively. They are also splitting household responsibilities at a much higher rate as well, at 64%. The difference in who is buying groceries is also less, with moms reporting 43% of the time while their partners are at 51% (8% difference).
Invisible labor becomes visible during the pandemic
Moms' partners are doing more at home, and they should be. As Motherly has previously reported, research suggests that if men do just 50 minutes more household labor per day we could close the gender gap, but societal issues—especially a lack of flexible work and parental leave—reinforce outdated gender norms that do not serve the modern family.
For too long our society has allowed mothers' labor to remain invisible, even to their partners, but researchers suggest that much like how Spain's paternity leave program resulted in dads desiring fewer kids, the COVID-19 crisis is forcing American fathers to reevaluate whether the status-quo is really working for their families.
As Doepke, Olmstead-Rumsey, Alon and Tertilt explain: "During the current crisis, many millions of men are on a form of forced paternity leave for a much longer period, and a sizable fraction will be the main providers of childcare during this time."
Motherly's third annual State of Motherhood Survey is proving that out, and proving that the social support mothers have been calling for (namely parental leave, affordable childcare and flexible work options) will be necessary for America's recovery. Without them, this newfound gender equality will be lost and that is not good for mothers, fathers or America's next generation.
America's mothers need more support outside the home
Every year America's mothers tell us society is not supporting them. Our first annual State of Motherhood survey in 2018 found 74% of respondents felt society was not supporting moms. In 2018 that was up to 85% and this year it's again increased: Now, 89% of mothers do not feel society is supporting them and 97% report feeling burned out by motherhood at least some of the time.
These women are telling us what they need and it's not just support from their partners but support from their employers, too. Survey respondents say employers could better support mothers through longer, paid maternity leave (20%) and on-site childcare or childcare subsidies (23%), and when asked what change they most want to see in the workplace after COVID-19, working mothers mostly want more flexibility for themselves or their partners (30%),
Flexibility and paid parental leave not just for mothers, but their partners, too, is key in hanging on to the newfound gender equality happening in American households. For years Millennial fathers have been telling us that they want to be equal parents but that work and gender roles are holding them back. Our partners are now doing their part, it's time for society to support them in supporting us.
It shouldn't have taken a pandemic to force our partners, employers and political leaders to see our invisible labor: But now that they have, we can't let the world go back to ignoring it.