Families across the globe have been affected by the ever-changing and uncertain working environment wrought by government responses to Covid-19.  For many families both jobs and childcare have become less certain.

For families that finely balance time with their children, work, childcare and everything else, lockdown periods are highly stressful.  My experience is that many couples with young children work in shifts late in to the night, while balancing phone calls, Zoom meetings and urgent emails during the day.  As most working mothers I know work only part-time, I can only imagine what it might be like with two full-time working parents. 

I am certain that more than one parent has wondered whether paid work is sustainable at all in such an uncertain environment, if the children are to also be well-cared for and some remnant of a peaceful and well-functioning home maintained. 

A recent study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that government responses to Covid-19 have indeed caused drastic changes to most parents’ work lives and other responsibilities in the United Kingdom.  Its findings include:

“Millions of adults have lost or are forecast to lose their jobs permanently; many more have stopped work temporarily. Others are newly working from home, while many key workers are experiencing additional pressures and risks in their work.

For most parents, school and childcare closures have meant that children are at home, and requiring care, for at least an extra six hours a day.

…The complete shutdown of certain sectors and the huge increase in households’ care responsibilities are both completely new.”  

Job losses and increased childcare responsibilities most often affect women.  Mothers are one-and-a-half times more likely than fathers to have either lost their job or quit since the lockdown began. They are also more likely to have been granted a leave of absence from work.

Women are much more likely to be in insecure, part-time employment roles, and the shut-down sectors also disproportionately employ women, thus they will likely be the first to go when more redundancies hit.  Moreover, as women generally perform important childcare and “home” responsibilities, many feel that without certain child-care, time at home must come before other work.  Thus, the effects of lockdown may be felt for some time to come:

“Workers who have lost their jobs permanently may struggle to find new ones, workers who have reduced their hours may struggle to increase them again, and workers whose productivity has suffered due to interruptions may be penalised in pay and promotion decisions. The disproportionate decrease in mothers’ paid work now suggests any longlasting effects will be particularly severe for them.”

The findings also indicate that, despite doing less childcare than mothers, during lockdown fathers have nearly doubled the time they spend on childcare. It will be interesting to understand how many work places have accommodated fathers to balance childcare responsibilities over the lockdown period.  I have heard more than one parent of pre-school aged children lament that many of the people they work with have never had children or don’t currently have young children, and simply do not seem to even contemplate the huge stress on families with young children.  Will lockdown result in greater allowances for fathers that balance time at the office with adequate family and “home” time?

Spending more time with our own children is a blessing.  I often lament how many hours a day my children are under the influence of others at school; increasing numbers of parents choose to home-school for this very reason.  However, the reality of other commitments, both financial and otherwise, make this season of life a very stressful one for the parents of young children. It may also affect the many women who balanced any sort of paid work with their important work in the home for many years to come.

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Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...