Moms More Likely to Shoulder Pandemic’s Burdens


Moms More Likely to Shoulder Pandemic’s Burdens

I remember the day in March when we realized my daughter’s school would be closing for a month. The world seemed like it would end. I remember crying as I struggled to make dinner, texting with my friends about how we’d get through one month without the framework and system of support that preschool provided.

It’s been nine months. How quaint my tears back then seem now. My husband and I spent months navigating our work, our daughter’s needs, and making sense of life during a global pandemic. We’ve learned how to co-exist for hours and days in a small space. Even as I consider myself exceptionally lucky (with a partner, a job, a set of grandparents nearby, and the ability to afford childcare), there have been days and weeks that have been as hard as anything I’ve experienced.


The truth is, even before COVID-19 began, my business partner and I (both moms to young kids) began wondering if the moms were all right. We conducted a survey among 1,300 U.S. consumers and what we found shocked us: Not only were Americans anxious, they felt unprecedented levels of worry for the future. They felt institutions were failing them.  


And then we looked at the moms.

We have now done two waves of a comprehensive study on consumer fear and anxiety, one pre-pandemic in December of 2019 and the second in summer 2020. Both showed us a clear and drastic trend: Women in America are more anxious than men are, both in their immediate situation and when considering the wider world. Male respondents reported being more likely to feel enthusiastic, confident, and financially better off than they used to be. In contrast, women reported being more likely to believe that the financial system is stacked against them and that the world is less safe.


And now months into Covid, women’s careers are suffering. A Washington Post analysis finds that “The pandemic economy has affected mothers and fathers differently. Mothers saw greater initial drops in employment than fathers.” Further, “The discrepancy was largest among parents of school-age children. Recovery among mothers whose youngest children were 6 to 12 has lagged behind fathers. …This disparity threatens years of progress for women in the labor force.”


New data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows September was a disaster for working women. A huge number of women were forced to drop out of the labor force – around 865,000, according to calculations. That number overshadows the 216,000 men in the same position.

Race adds another layer of complexity

The situation is even worse for Black women who, according to the Washington Post analysis, “are facing the largest barriers to returning to work… and have recovered only 34 percent of jobs lost in the early months of the pandemic.” Further, “They are among the most likely to work in low-paying service-sector jobs, which have been slow to rebound at a time when it is still a major health risk to be around others…It took until 2018 for Black women’s employment to recover from the Great Recession. Now almost all of those hard-won gains have been erased.”


In our study, which we balanced to include a diverse sample of people of color, African Americans and mothers were the two cohorts least likely to believe that the “U.S. is headed in the right direction” with 28% and 34% saying so, respectively in December 2019. In June 2020, these scores dipped further to 24% and 26%, respectively. 

Women need support now more than ever

It is abundantly clear: what’s happening now is going to have long-term implications for mothers, children, and families. While it is difficult to predict the future, current data shows that mothers are experiencing the greatest setbacks as a result of this pandemic and recession. We need to work together to help curb the impact on society and the economy. As a recent article in the New York Times suggested – these challenges could have long term impacts: “Many women worry that the changes will sharply narrow women’s choices and push them unwillingly into the unpaid role of full-time homemaker. And the impact could stretch over generations, paring women’s retirement savings, and reducing future earnings of children now in low-income households.”


A Thanksgiving Wish 

So this Thanksgiving – if you’re married to a mom, if you employ a mom, if you work alongside a mom – I’d like to ask you to acknowledge that moms are facing unique and extraordinary challenges on every front. Because when I talk with working moms, if we’re honest – we acknowledge that each day is a challenge: juggling live client calls, kid tantrums, mealtimes, homework, and trying to carve out any sense of personal space. For others, their challenges are even more extreme as they don’t have any outside resources on which to draw to help them navigate what has become a very unwelcome reality. In short, the moms are just simply not okay.


If you don’t believe me – ask a mom you know when was the last time she had an hour to herself. Or how many times she had a crying jag in the past week. Or whether she’s drinking more than usual, just to get through. The answers are grim. 


And yet, there is another solution. This country could look at the weight working moms are carrying and say – it’s time to stop being the last western country to offer paid maternity and family leave, it’s time to expand the options for moms to have more flexibility in their schedules, and it’s time to fight for universal childcare. And we might even need to offer a couple of weeks of extra leave this year – given the sky-high stress moms are facing. 


So this Thanksgiving and holiday season I’m hoping moms across this country will take some time to step back, find some space – even if it’s just an hour walk by ourselves, to ask for help from our family and partners, and give in without guilt to kiddo screentime so we can take a breather. 


We have a choice as a national family – do we value moms? Do we value families? And if we do, what are we willing to stand for so that they can contribute and be supported –both now, during the chaos of COVID, and in the future – when all these issues will still be with us and many moms will face an uphill climb to get back to fulfilling work – or at the very least, work that just allows us to care for our kids and pay the bills. 


I know it’s bleak for a Thanksgiving message- but that’s what I’ve got this year. So go hug a mom – and ask them what they need. It will really make all the difference. 

Our Facing Fear Research Series

Drawing on world-class analysis from researchers at Alter Agents and commentary by thought leaders in economics, political science, and psychology, this reporting series is a must-read to understand the consumer mindset entering the second year of the pandemic.

Facing Fear: Understanding Anxious Consumers
Facing Fear: Consumer Anxiety in 2020
Facing Fear: Overcoming Consumer Anxiety

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About the author
Devora Rogers is Chief Strategy Officer for Alter Agents, a full-service, strategic market research consultancy. Consumer and shopper insights and strategy have been her passion for more than a decade. Devora has led research teams, developed the methodology deployed for Google’s groundbreaking ZMOT research, and worked with dozens of global brands. Devora’s research philosophy is centered around understanding what drives decision making for shoppers and consumers and then helping brands develop a strategy to activate. Devora is a regular public speaker at industry events and her TedX on the Future of Shopping and Retail has been viewed over 250,000 times. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter and ornery cat.

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