Women’s COVID job crisis was more predictable than we thought

April 22, 2021, 12:54 PM UTC
Defocused picture, family reading a book.
A new study says that women in relationships where caregiving was evenly shared were less likely to leave work for reduce their hours.
Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Gina McCarthy gets to rebuild her climate legacy, the EU takes on artificial intelligence, and a new study explores how caregiving duties shaped women’s employment outcomes. Have a thoughtful Thursday.

– So predictable. The unemployment crisis now facing female caregivers was arguably pretty predictable. Subtract in-person school, nurseries, and adult-care providers from the equation, keep work responsibilities constant, and—poof!—you’ve got real devastation on your hands.

A new study suggests that we could have predicted which women were likely to leave the workforce at an even more granular level by looking at what share of caregiving duties they were responsible for.

Researchers from the University of Utah, Ball State, and the University of Buffalo found that of mothers in different-sex relationships who shouldered 80-100% of the care of young children, one in two voluntarily exited the workforce or reduced their paid working hours. Among mothers whose male partners did 40-60% of caregiving, the probability that they left the workforce or cut their hours was 15%, similar to father’s 11%.

“Given that women in partnerships with egalitarian childcare arrangements are less likely to reduce their labor force participation, fathers’ efforts to increase their domestic contributions may have somewhat protected mothers’ jobs during the early pandemic—a sobering thought given how many mothers left or lost their jobs,” the authors wrote in HBR. The findings, they say, “indicate that many more men can step up and alleviate some of the burdens on their partners.”

The pressing question is how to ensure that happens. The authors say that the ability to work from home during the pandemic seemed to increase father engagement. At the same time, the share of fathers who shifted to working from home didn’t match the uptick in domestic contribution because “remote work is not necessarily flexible work.”

I went ahead and underlined that line twice.

Employers are rightfully concerned about retaining their female employees and rehiring women who exited the COVID-era workforce. But any solution to this crisis needs must also consider women’s partners and ensure that they too have the flexibility to contribute at home.

Claire Zillman

Editor’s Note: Fortune’s Brainstorm Health, co-chaired by Arianna Huffington, kicks off next week, April 27-28. The speaker line-up is jam-packed with big names like CVS CEO Karen Lynch, Nobel Laureate Dr. Frances Arnold, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki, Accenture CEO Julie Sweet, Army surgeon general Ltg (ret) Nadja West, Gro Intelligence founder and CEO Sara Menker and many more. The Broadsheet will bring you a recap of the conference, but we encourage you to participate directly by signing up here.

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


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