If you suspect moms and dads are experiencing this pandemic a little differently, you’d be right.
In fact, two surveys by Bonnier Custom Insights, a division of Working Mother Media’s parent company, Bonnier Corp., found working moms and dads nearly diametrically opposed when it comes to how they’ve weathered the COVID-19 crisis, particularly at work.
The first survey took the pulse of 797 working moms from March 27 to May 29. The second polled 262 working dads from April 27 to May 29. Taken together, they indicate working moms and dads are living entirely different realities right now.
Nearly twice as many working moms (81 percent) as dads (41 percent) said their ability to engage effectively at work has been negatively impacted by the pandemic. The most common reasons moms have been struggling were anxiety/stress in their personal life, family pressures and anxiety/stress due to job security. Across the board, nearly three times as many moms as dads said these issues had impacted their ability to do their job.
That anxiety is taking an enormous toll on working moms. A quarter rated their emotional state as poor, while another 41 percent described it as average. Working dads, on the other hand, appear to be thriving. Nearly a quarter said their emotional state is excellent, while 45 percent rated it as good.
So why are moms severely stressed out while dads are doing just fine? The survey provides some glimpses. Nearly half of dads said they were not working from home, because their job has not allowed them to do so. Other studies have confirmed that women have been more likely than men to telework during the crisis. That means many moms are watching kids all day while doing their work, with no partner at home to help.
But even when dad is at home, research shows moms handle the bulk of domestic duties. While one study revealed that dads have started doing more housework and childcare during the pandemic, they haven’t caught up with moms. In fact, the time we spend on housework has almost doubled during the pandemic. All of it leaves moms with half as many hours of uninterrupted work as dads.
“I know the coming weeks will make me feel anxious and guilty—that I am neglecting my kids to try and work and that I am neglecting work to try and look after my kids,” one mom said.
“My workload and expectations of my employer have not changed. I feel pressured to continue to perform at 100 percent at my job while I’m not giving enough attention to my child and his virtual learning. This results in a lot of guilt and anxiety,” said another.
Parsing the comments from dads provides comparatively few worries about how childcare will impact their work. “No bias in my workplace,” several respondents reported.
Part of the problem, sociologists have previously noted, is men and women don’t agree who handles the majority of household contributions. A poll by Morning Consult for The New York Times, taken during the same time period, found that nearly half of men said they do most of the homeschooling, but only 3 percent of women agreed.
There were similar discrepancies between moms and dads in the two surveys. While over half of moms (51 percent) said they have primarily handled childcare responsibilities since the start of the pandemic, only 26 percent of men agreed. Dads were far more likely than moms to say childcare duties are shared equally, 66 percent to 41 percent, respectively.
“Both women and men overestimate their time in time-use surveys,” says Jill Yavorsky, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina, who found in her own research that both new fathers and new mothers overestimate their childcare by similar amounts, but fathers far overestimate the time they spend in housework. “I would surmise that ‘reality’ of childcare divisions probably falls somewhere in the middle between men’s and women’s reports.”
One factor, Dr. Yavorsky says, is that moms and dads tend to fall back on traditional gender norms when both partners are around, partly due to the ways that heterosexual couples originally set up their parenting, right from the start, with moms more likely to take leave or step back from their careers to care for a new baby.
“Overall, the pandemic is revealing how critical it is to have institutions and policies that support equality in the workplace and home, and the importance of care work to our society,” she says. “Without better family-work policies and more men stepping up to the plate, we are at risk of women being pushed further behind in the workplace and economically and losing many of the gender gains we have made over the past several decades.”
There’s some evidence to suggest that’s already happening, especially as many schools announce the continuation of virtual learning in the fall, leaving working moms forced to choose yet again between teaching their kids or doing their job.
In addition to picking up the slack at home, one key way men can help working moms who are struggling is by “taking advantage all of the workplace flexibility that’s afforded to them, so it’s not just women,” says Mara Bolis, associate director of Women’s Economic Rights, Gender Justice & Inclusion Hub, for Oxfam America. That would help alleviate a lot of worry women have that their career will be impacted by asking for accommodations. “There is a major role for men to be leaning in now,” she says.