The Pandemic Isn't Killing The Working Mom -- The Wage Gap Is

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 
The Pandemic Isn’t Killing The Working Mom The Wage Gap Is
Scary Mommy and treety/Getty

As we approach the six month mark of the coronavirus pandemic, finding ways for the workforce to return to “normal” is on the forefront of many minds. Whether it’s because of working from home, being essential or being laid off, women are bearing the brunt of this conversation.

When all of this began, everyone expected moms to step up to the plate. And they did, of course. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Many working mothers are making some sort of sacrifice when it comes to their jobs. But the pandemic isn’t the only cause of this glaring inequity; the gender pay gap is.

The 2020 gender pay gap data was released on March 31st of this year. That was in the early days of the shelter at home order for most of us. By then, many moms were beginning to feel the stress coronavirus was going to put on their lives. Why? Because they were expected to take on every additional burden without help. And many have, and did. But at what cost to their own work?

Research from data company PayScale found that “women often incur a pay penalty upon returning to work after an absence—7 percent less on average for the same position.” To further illustrate the gender wage gap, they examined some of the positions most affected by coronavirus to illustrate the point. They found that female elementary school teachers make $.92 to every male teacher’s dollar. And female nurses make $.98 to every male’s dollar. And even though it’s not as significant as the overall average, it’s important to note that these are two predominantly female occupations.

As pretty much every heterosexual woman knows, women do the majority of the work at home. Working mothers balance school and work schedules, grocery shop, help with homework, handle the bulk of childcare, etc. And while some of their husbands may be active and present, the division of labor is nowhere near equal. In 2017, Market Watch reported that women do 271 minutes of unpaid labor at home versus a man’s 137.

The inequity of labor division is without a doubt exacerbated by coronavirus. How could it not? So many of us are feeling the overwhelming stress and pressure of this pandemic. Many of us are feeling crushing anxiety at how we’re going to keep it all going. Everyday, things only get harder for all of us. Women are truly balancing it all — we’re doing everything from home. And the issues that lead to the gender pay gap are only growing more and more obvious as the pandemic rages on.

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Think about it. Women are basically the default parent when it comes to everything related to childcare and housework. If someone has to cut hours to take care of their kids, it’s often the woman. Women are also more likely to choose jobs that fit around their children’s schedules so they can be the “go to” parent.

If we’re already at the point of making nearly twenty cents less than every dollar men earn, we know it’s only going to get worse in a post-corona world. But because we’re in the middle of it, there’s no way of knowing just how bad it’s going to get. It could easily be an additional twenty cents, or maybe even more. We have no idea how long we’re going to be home with our kids. Even if life stays like this only for another six months, a lot of additional damage will be done. And it’s entirely possible that for some women, the damage will be irreparable.

According to 2017 Census data, mothers who work earn 75 percent of what their male counterparts make. Some may try to argue that women choose their families over their careers, but we know that’s only partially true. There is a societal expectation that women choose their families over their careers. And it’s that same expectation that leads many women to have careers that offer them flexibility to have and care for families. It’s not that they don’t want to have more career options, including room for promotion, but they’re the ones who often have to make the sacrifice. So that means that they don’t always have the opportunities that their husbands or male counterparts at work have.

Because of the gender pay gap, many working mothers are using much of their income to cover childcare costs. In some states, families spend approximately 18 percent or more of their income on childcare. As a result, it’s expected that if childcare becomes an issue, the mother will quit her job. There’s no way to know how many mothers have already had to quit their jobs because of coronavirus. But now that school is beginning, and people are having to school their children at home, those numbers are definitely going to rise.

By and large, we give little value to the careers of working mothers. “The largest single factor [of the pay gap] is that women, relative to men in couples with kids, often take a bit of a backseat so that their jobs are more able to be on-call at home, and so that guys’ jobs are more able to be on-call in the office,” professor of economics at Harvard, Claudia Goldin, explained to CNBC.

Moms who are working from home during this pandemic are certainly taking the back seat. They’re making snacks, wiping butts and refereeing fights like normal. But then on top of that, they’re begging for a few minutes to check emails and hiding in the bathroom to do a Zoom call. Meanwhile, husbands get complete privacy and uninterrupted meetings because they’re the man and that’s what happens. It has nothing to do with who actually has the more important job. No, it’s the reality that the woman drops everything all the time.

Coronavirus is certainly making things impossible for everyone. But working mothers are at one of the biggest disadvantages. The pandemic is forcing many of them to drastically alter the ways they work. For some, that means reducing the amount of work they’re doing outside of the home. Some have had to quit working altogether to support their families. Since there’s no end in sight to the pandemic, we don’t know the long term effects on the workforce. What we do know that it will negatively affect the gender wage gap — just another worry for moms to heap onto their already-overflowing plates.

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