Dr. Alicia Sasser Modestino of Northeastern University gave a lecture on the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic on working parents on Sept. 29, as part of the ongoing Distinguished Speaker Series organized by the Boston College Center for Work & Family (BCCWF).
The Distinguished Speaker Series is a series of talks that focus around three ongoing topics: addressing race in organizations, advancing women and achieving gender equality, and envisioning the workplace of the future.
The virtual seminars, which began with Modestino’s presentation on Sept. 29, will be presented through May, when the BCCWF will meet for its 30th anniversary celebration.
With her background as an Associate Professor of Public Affairs, Economics, and Urban Affairs, Modestino discussed how she conducted research on the coronavirus pandemic's impact on working parents, childcare, and gender equity.
“Childcare is a critical piece of economic infrastructure that enables parents to get to work, the same way roads and bridges [help them commute]," Modestino explained. "The obstacles that childcare imposes on workers during the pandemic are widespread; they’re not limited to a few industries or a few occupations."
Modestino discussed how she has personally experienced this childcare crisis as a working mother of four while navigating working as a professor during a pandemic. Similarly, her colleague and co-author of this research Jamie Ladge, a professor at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University, was also working to balance taking care of her five children during the pandemic.
The two felt that research on this childcare crisis was essential and thus conducted a study on how the coronavirus pandemic has affected working parents across an array of demographics.
They first looked at childcare before the pandemic and analyzed how a greater percentage of children in paid care showed a correlation with a greater percentage of women in the labor force. Modestino explained that the United States has a deficiency in childcare programs for working women and thus has smaller percentages of women in the workforce in comparison to other developed countries.
“We had a childcare crisis before we even entered the pandemic, with a lack of available and affordable childcare, and now it’s really become a childcare emergency,” Modestino said.
To gather research, Modestino and Ladge surveyed 2,500 working parents on a national scale through the survey program PureSpectrum. Their research indicated that women experienced a significant increase in the number of hours spent on household tasks per week during the pandemic, including tasks such as helping their children with schoolwork, playing with them, or cleaning and cooking.
Modestino also referred to a New York Times’ survey that showed of the American fathers of young children living in households with spouses surveyed, half reported that they felt they equally shared the workload of attending to childcare and housework during the pandemic. The same study showed that only 3 percent of women agreed. The results of the survey also showed that one in ten working parents reported job loss or reduced working hours solely due to the lack of available childcare.
In that vein, working women lost an average of 11 hours per week from their job directly because of the childcare crisis; these findings showed an average loss of 9 hours for men. The data showed that lack of childcare had more of an impact on reducing work hours than things like staff reductions, business closures, or lack of available remote work.
These findings expose the ways in which parenting roles are disproportionately placed on women and thus negatively impact their ability to be present in the workforce.