by Alicia Sasser Modestino, Jamie J. Ladge, Addie Swartz, and Alisa Lincoln, Harvard Business Review
When the Covid-19 pandemic removed the safety net of schooling and employee-paid child care for working families, the damage was cataclysmic. Without a stable form of childcare as part of the business infrastructure, the world stopped working for the vast majority of working parents around the world. One third of the U.S. workforce, or an estimated 50 million workers, has a child under 14 in their household. As researchers, practitioners, and mothers ourselves, we wanted examine the role childcare played in the employment decisions made by families and more importantly, what those choices can teach us about the needs of working parents moving forward.
In our national panel survey of 2,500 working parents we found that nearly 20% of working parents had to leave work or reduce their work hours solely due to a lack of childcare. Only 30% of all working parents had any form of back-up childcare, and there were significant disparities between low and high-income households.
Of those who lost a job or reduced hours due to childcare, 40% of parents said that the factors for deciding who would be responsible for taking care of the children came down to which parent worked more hours or had a less flexible schedule. Shockingly (but honestly), nearly one third said that deciding who would take care of the kids came down to “who was better at it.” In comparison, less than one quarter cited income as a factor in their decision — suggesting that gender roles still loom large in household decision-making.