‘I was very surprised’: Researcher finds more mothers are returning to the workforce

Mass — The economic slowdown in 2020 was coined the “she-cession” because a disproportionate number of people who left the workforce during the pandemic were women.

The numbers tell the story.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, 5.4 million women left the workforce during the shutdown which is about a million more than the number of men who exited.

60% of them cited childcare issues as their reason, according to the US Chamber of Commerce.

“While we certainly know that COVID-19 spurred a ‘she-cession’, what we know now is that women are powering the labor market’s recovery,” said Lauren Bauer, who is with the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution.

She just co-authored a report on women in the workforce.

“What was surprising to me was that these women with young children who historically have the lowest rates of labor force participation among any prime age group had seen the biggest gains. I was very surprised.”

Boston 25 News asked women in Brookline’s Coolidge Corner why they think this is happening.

“The whole one parent works, one parent stays home, you can’t afford to anymore, especially not around here,” said one woman. “I think probably the biggest reason we’re talking, especially about women going back, if you have family, it’s because you have to.”

Another added, “Economic factors, like student loans, are coming back. . . inflation is definitely a factor, everything is more expensive.”

“After the pandemic and the isolation and all of that, I think women were very eager to try to relieve themselves from that feeling,” according to another passerby.

Remote work, and the flexibility it brings, is also a big factor.

“It seems like those who are participating much more than they used to are those with the greatest resources, so these are women who have at least a bachelor’s degree, women who are married,” said Fernanda Campbell, Ph.D.

Campbell has written extensively about the childcare crisis for the Boston Opportunity Agenda.

“If you have an infant or a toddler, it’s hard to find a seat. It continues to be extremely expensive and it increases inequalities because if you have less than a bachelor’s degree, you’re less likely to be benefiting from this trend.”

Women coming back to work, whether it’s in person or remote, is good for corporate culture, according to Bill Driscoll, Senior District President at Robert Half, a human resource consulting firm.

“It benefits the organization long term. Diversity is always good, a different perspective is always really important. And just because moms and dads have babies, you don’t want to lose your top performers.”

The backdrop of this trend is a period of huge job creation and low employment.

That’s put workers in the driver’s seat when it comes to negotiating for things like hybrid work options.

But as the job market slows down and more companies are requiring workers back to the office, Driscoll says workers might lose some of their leverage.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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